Rodrigo Duterte makes the first visit to Israel by a president of the Philippines Sunday to shop for weapons as his detractors point to his previous comments liking his war on drug addicts to the Nazi genocide of Jewish people.
Israel sees the four-day tour by Duterte and his top ministers as a chance to thank Manila for taking in Jews during the Holocaust and backing the Israeli independence campaign that followed.
Tourism, labor and defense deals are also on the agenda, cementing relationships between the Asian power and Israel, both historical U.S. allies.
Yet Israel's Government Press Office has said most of the visit will be closed to the media, an apparent precaution against faux pas by a president whose two-fisted crime-fighting tactics and rhetoric have raised hackles at home and abroad.
Some Israeli pundits have recoiled at his planned attendance at Holocaust commemorations.
In 2016, in a bungled reference to an opponent’s remark that his rise could be like that of Adolf Hitler, Duterte said he himself would be “happy to slaughter” drug addicts on the scale of the Nazi leader's Jewish genocide.
While Duterte apologized for that, he has been dogged by accusations from activists that thousands of killings in his ongoing war on drugs were executions, which he rejects, and is rebuked by women’s groups for remarks that make light of rape.
In June, Duterte called God “stupid” and has lashed out repeatedly at the Catholic church, deeming it hypocritical. His visit will include sightseeing in Jerusalem's walled Old City, which houses major Christian, Jewish and Muslim shrines.
"There's just no knowing what he will say from one moment to the next, so both sides want to keep this (Israel) visit as low-key as possible," one official involved in the planning, and who asked not to be identified by name or nationality, told Reuters.
Duterte wants to improve security cooperation with Israel, which has sold the Philippines three radar systems and 100 armored vehicles, and which Manila is now eyeing for an aircraft deal. According to Israeli government data, exports to the Philippines were worth US$143 million last year.
Duterte arrives in Israel on Sunday and on Wednesday departs for neighboring Jordan.