Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday praised Budapest for “standing up for” the Jewish state, at talks with Hungarian premier Viktor Orban who is under fire at home for allegedly stoking anti-Semitism.
“I want to thank you for standing up for Israel in international forums, you have done this again and again,” Netanyahu said at a press conference with Orban in Budapest.
He added that Hungary, as the birthplace of modern political Zionism founder Theodor Herzl, was “at the forefront” of countries fighting anti-Zionism.
Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to visit Budapest since the fall of communism in 1989.
The landmark trip brings together two right-wingers enamoured of US President Donald Trump and with a disdain for the left-leaning liberal global order bankrolled, as they see it, by the likes of US billionaire George Soros.
“The (Israeli) prime minister is a great patriot and success belongs to those who are patriots, who don’t push national identity and interests aside,” Orban said Tuesday.
“Israel’s history teaches that we will lose the things we don’t fight for.”
The hardline policies of the pair — described as “spiritual brothers” by Hungarian media — have sparked tensions with Brussels.
But in eastern and central Europe, the muscle-flexing has found fertile ground.
Netanyahu will on Wednesday meet premiers of the Visegrad Group — Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic plus Hungary — whose nationalistic stances have also increasingly placed them at odds with the rest of the EU.
“All these states are very pro-Israel,” Israeli analyst Raphael Vago told AFP.
“They vote in our favour at the European Union and the United Nations.”
Netanyahu will attend Budapest’s Great Synagogue with Jewish community leaders, before departing Thursday.
The trip comes at a sensitive time for Orban who faces a backlash over his virulent crusade against Soros, a Hungarian-born Jewish emigre.
Some posters daubed with graffiti have attacked the financier for his alleged support of mass immigration.
Many in Hungary’s 100,000-strong Jewish population — one Europe’s largest — have accused Orban, in power since 2010, of turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism or even encouraging it to stave off growing support for the far-right.
Orban however has insisted the billboards were not about Soros’s Jewishness but the “national security risk” posed by his supposed wish to “settle a million migrants” in the EU.
“I’ve discussed the concerns that I have heard from the Jewish community here and (Orban) reassured me in unequivocal terms,” said Netanyahu.
Orban meanwhile said his government has a “zero-tolerance policy in place towards anti-Semitism” to “guarantee the complete safety” of Hungary’s Jews.
“The Hungarian government committed an error, even a crime, when it decided not to defend its Jewish compatriots during World War II and instead collaborate with the Nazis,” the populist strongman said.
He was referencing the Hungarian wartime leader and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy who oversaw the sending of over a half million Jews to Nazi death camps.
Orban last month landed in hot water after praising Horthy as an “exceptional statesman” for rebuilding Hungary after World War I.
Critics have long suspected Orban of trying to rehabilitate Horthy by tacitly encouraging new memorials of him and other interwar figures.
Analysts say Orban banks on Netanyahu’s visit to help him fend off charges of anti-Semitism.
“Connecting Soros to the migration issue is the (Hungarian) government’s aim, but it is a problem for Orban if the campaign is seen as anti-Semitic,” political analyst Csaba Toth told AFP.
“So the Netanyahu visit helps him as it bolsters his claims that the Soros campaign is not.”
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