Hungary's Orban set for controversial visit to Israel


Jerusalem (AFP)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for a controversial visit to Israel on Wednesday as he and his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu find common cause in their right-wing views.

Orban's visit has provoked concern in Israel over allegations he has stoked anti-Semitism in Hungary with nationalist rhetoric and a campaign against US Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Netanyahu has brushed aside those concerns as he seeks closer ties with European nations willing to provide strong backing to Israel. He and Orban also both strongly support US President Donald Trump.

A year ago, Netanyahu made the first trip to Budapest by an Israeli prime minister since the fall of communism in 1989, thanking Orban for "standing up for Israel in international forums".

He also denounced "absolutely crazy" EU demands of Israel, such as those related to Israel's occupation of the West Bank, in closed-door remarks picked up by a microphone and overheard by journalists.

Netanyahu has extended his praise to all of the so-called Visegrad group, which includes Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and whose nationalist stances have been a thorn in Brussels' side.

Orban arrives later Wednesday and is due to hold talks with Netanyahu on Thursday, according to Israel's foreign ministry.

He will tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Thursday afternoon and visit the Western Wall in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on Friday before leaving.

In a break with protocol for EU leaders who usually meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah during such visits, he has no scheduled talks with Palestinian leaders.

Orban, a virulent opponent of Muslim immigration who has been in power since 2010, has come under fire for his battle against Budapest-born Soros.

Many in Hungary's 100,000-strong Jewish population -- one of Europe's largest -- have accused Orban of encouraging anti-Semitism.

A government poster campaign last year, attacking Soros for his alleged support of mass immigration, drew heavy criticism over what some saw as its use of anti-Semitic imagery.

Orban has stressed that the campaign was about Soros's political views and that Hungary has "zero tolerance" toward anti-Semitism.

Netanyahu has also criticised Soros for backing human rights groups critical of the Israeli government.

Orban's praise of wartime leader and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy as "an exceptional statesman" for rebuilding Hungary after World War I has also sparked criticism.

"Netanyahu is going to honour Viktor Orban, who has hailed and praised the anti-Semitic leader who collaborated with the Nazis in the extermination of the Jews of Hungary. Shame!" said Yair Lapid, head of centrist Israeli opposition party Yesh Atid, on Twitter.

Galia Golan, political science professor at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, spoke of an "informal alliance" of right-wing, nationalist governments.

"These are the countries that support us and we have to go with the counties that are supporting us," she said. "But why are we in this category to begin with?"