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For­mer Is­raeli Am­bas­sador Ephraim Ben Matityau speaks to Marga Man­lapig about the con­tin­u­ing friend­ship be­tween his coun­try and the Philip­pines

Philippine Tatler - - CONTENTS -

For­mer Is­raeli Am­bas­sador Ephraim Ben Matityau speaks of the long­stand­ing friend­ship be­tween his coun­try and the Philip­pines

"You’re here early!” Ephraim “Effie” Ben Matityau ex­claims as he en­ters the room where his in­ter­view is to take place. Though early, he is ready: all dressed up and dap­per in a cream-coloured barong

Ta­ga­log with a big smile on his friendly face. While very pro­fes­sional, he can­not help but dote over four-month-old Michael, his first grand­son, who is vis­it­ing from Ger­many with his fam­ily.

In­deed, as he nears the end of tour of duty, the Is­rael Am­bas­sador ex­udes a re­laxed aura and a jovial vi­tal­ity—qual­i­ties that en­deared him to many peo­ple dur­ing his ten­ure in the Philip­pines. But he is quick to say that warmth begets warmth, and that his ear­li­est im­pres­sions of the Filipino peo­ple have helped mould his own cor­dial­ity to­wards them.

“It was dur­ing my sec­ond week in the coun­try when I met a great men­tor of mine, a se­nior diplo­mat,” he re­calls. “She told me, ‘Effie, re­mem­ber: the Philip­pines is founded on four pil­lars: food; dance, as ev­ery­body is on the move in this coun­try; song, see­ing how ev­ery Filipino is a singer; and— most im­por­tantly—tak­ing pic­tures. You’re in the selfie cap­i­tal of the world!’” With a grin, he adds that he came back to her with his own dis­cov­ery. “I told her that she for­got the cen­tral pil­lar: the Filipinos’ hospi­tal­ity and smiles.”

This keen sense of friend­li­ness has left a last­ing im­pres­sion on Ben Matityau, one that he feels will linger with him long after he leaves the coun­try.

“You meet a Filipino in the morn­ing, and by evening, you get in­vited to his wed­ding!” he laughs as he de­scribes how friendly we are. “It’s so easy to in­te­grate one’s self into this coun­try’s so­ci­ety; it’s amaz­ing. It was, for me, a les­son in friend­ship.”

It is a les­son that he be­gan learn­ing well be­fore he took on the am­bas­sado­rial po­si­tion in 2014. Prior to be­com­ing Is­rael’s of­fi­cial en­voy to the Philip­pines, Ben Matityau had been com­ing to the coun­try for quite a while in his ca­pac­ity as the Head of the Over­seas Devel­op­ment Projects and Pub­lic-Pri­vate Part­ner­ship Bureau of MASHAV, Is­rael’s Agency for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment Co­op­er­a­tion be­tween 2009 and 2014.

“My port­fo­lio in­volved all the devel­op­ment projects of the agency,” he says. “The Philip­pines con­tin­ues to be a ma­jor stake­holder and great part­ner for devel­op­ment.”

The Philip­pines and Is­rael en­joy a dy­namic re­la­tion­ship when it comes to eco­nomic and in­dus­trial devel­op­ment. To­day, there are over 30,000 Filipinos work­ing in Is­rael, con­sti­tut­ing a great part of its for­eign work­force. Like­wise, bi­lat­eral trade be­tween the Philip­pines and Is­rael has grown ex­po­nen­tially over the past few years. As of the end of 2017, Philip­pine mer­chan­dise ex­ports to Is­rael have been val­ued at US$ 63.3 mil­lion. Last 17 Au­gust, a Light­house Pro­ject in ur­ban agri­cul­ture in the form of hy­dro­pon­ics and aquapon­ics was for­mally in­au­gu­rated on the rooftop of the Taguig City Univer­sity as a way of pro­mot­ing self-re­liance. The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment and pri­vate sec­tor are also work­ing with their lo­cal coun­ter­parts for pro­grammes re­lated to liveli­hood devel­op­ment and in­dus­try-spe­cific skills train­ing. But, as hard as it is to imag­ine, this fruit­ful part­ner­ship be­gan on the eve of one of the dark­est chap­ters in hu­man his­tory.

“We are called upon to learn from one an­other, to work with one an­other, and to bring peo­ple to­gether” —Effie Ben Matityau

Along with the 70th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the mod­ern state of Is­rael, 2018 marks 60 years of diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween the Philip­pines and Is­rael. Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s re­cent state visit to Is­rael served to fur­ther strengthen this long­stand­ing re­la­tion­ship. For his part, Ben Matityau has worked to re­mind Filipinos of a great deed that hap­pened be­fore that, when the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment brought in over 1,300 Ger­man Jews in 1937. The en­gi­neer of that mam­moth res­cue ef­fort was thenPres­i­dent Manuel L Que­zon.

“We’re talk­ing about a time when hu­man­i­tar­ian ideas were a for­eign no­tion to most coun­tries,” Ben Matityau re­marks gravely. “Many peo­ple don’t un­der­stand that the ’30s and ’40s were marked by a very dif­fer­ent mind­set, rules, and norms com­pared to what we have in mod­ern times. Hu­man rights in the past were com­pletely dif­fer­ent from our no­tion of hu­man rights to­day. That is the con­text from which one can un­der­stand the great thing that Manuel Que­zon did: he was act­ing on prin­ci­ples that were for­eign to many [sup­pos­edly en­light­ened] nations at the time.”

For Ben Matityau, whose own fa­ther sur­vived Nazi bru­tal­ity at Auschwitz, Que­zon’s in­ter­ven­tion was a mile­stone for the Filipino peo­ple. “Not too many coun­tries opened their minds to [of­fer­ing sanc­tu­ary for Jews dis­placed from their home­lands,]” he says. “What Que­zon did was a great moral vic­tory for the Philip­pines.”

In recog­ni­tion of Que­zon’s com­pas­sion­ate “Open Door” pol­icy for Jews seek­ing refuge from anti- Semitic ex­trem­ism, Is­rael abol­ished the visa re­quire­ment for Filipinos seek­ing to travel there.

“Filipinos ac­tu­ally ask me ‘So, how do I get a visa to Is­rael?’” Ben Matityau laughs. “They’re very sur­prised when I tell them that they don’t need a visa to get there!”

But laugh­ter aside, Ben Matityau has en­sured that this act of com­pas­sion will never be for­got­ten. In 2017, the Is­raeli Em­bassy spon­sored the pub­li­ca­tion of Open Doors, Open Heart, a graphic novel penned by Sarge Lacuesta and drawn by Jim Jimenez, telling the story of the Jews’ jour­ney to the Philip­pines. As one of his fi­nal acts as am­bas­sad or, he for­mally un­veiled a his­tor­i­cal marker at the Philip­pineIs­rael Friend­ship Park last 19 Au­gust.

This ded­i­ca­tion to fos­ter­ing warm, cor­dial, and mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tions be­tween his coun­try and the Philip­pines lies at the cor e of Ben Matityau’s ca­reer. For him, a diplo­mat works on a “win- win” prin­ci­ple: that all ini­tia­tives should ben­e­fit both sides. This is seen in the w ay his em­bassy here con­tin­ues to push for tourism, eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion, and in­dus­trial knowl­edge shar­ing. Per­haps this is his own way of push­ing for bet­ter un­der­stand­ing and hu­man re­la­tions.

“We are called upon to learn from one an­other,” he says, “to work with one an­other, and to bring peo­ple to­gether.”

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