Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu is in Budapest Tuesday for talks with Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban, who hopes the visit will silence critics accusing him of leading an anti-Semitic crusade against US billionaire George Soros.
It brings together two rightwingers 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 Hungarian-born philanthropist Soros.
Orban accuses the financier of funding mass immigration to Europe, while Netanyahu denounces his support for Israeli and Palestinian activists critical of Israel’s government and occupation.
The hardline policies of the pair — described as “spiritual brothers” by Hungarian media — have sparked tensions with Brussels and other European Union states.
Netanyahu, fresh from a contentious visit to Paris, will on Wednesday also meet premiers of the Visegrad Group — Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic plus Hungary — whose nationalistic stances have 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.”
On Wednesday evening Netanyahu will attend Budapest’s Great Synagogue with Jewish community leaders, before departing the following day.
The high-profile trip to Hungary, the first by an Israeli prime minister since the end of communism in 1989, comes with tempers flaring over Orban’s campaign vilifying Soros.
Posters have attacked the Jewish emigre for his alleged support of mass immigration.
Soros, who hid from the Nazis in Budapest as a boy, said the nationwide billboards used “anti-Semitic imagery” and were “reminiscent of Europe’s darkest hours”.
Orban however insisted they were not about the 86-year-old’s Jewishness but the “national security risk” posed by his supposed wish to “settle a million migrants” in the EU.
The posters — some daubed with “Stinking Jew” graffiti — have further strained relations with Hungary’s over 100,000-strong Jewish community, one of Europe’s largest.
They have accused Orban, in power since 2010, of encouraging anti-Semitism with nationalist rhetoric that analysts say is aimed at staving off a rise in for the far-right, a charge the 54-year-old denies.
The premier’s recent praise of wartime leader and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy as a “an exceptional statesman” for rebuilding Hungary after World War I has done little to ease the tensions.
Some in Israel called for Netanyahu to cancel his Hungary trip because of the posters, with Israel’s ambassador to Budapest saying it “sows hatred and fear” on July 8.
But the foreign ministry was quick to issue a statement backing Budapest’s anti-Soros campaign.
While Israel “deplores” anti-Semitism, Soros “continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organisations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself,” it said.
“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.”
Ahead of Netanyahu’s arrival, the Hungarian and Israeli branches of Amnesty International voiced concern over the “shrinking space of human rights groups”.
“We continue to witness the poisoning of the public arena in both countries due to the smearing rhetoric of these leaders and their groundless accusations of human rights groups,” they said Monday.
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