Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday denounced Brussels’ repeated criticism of Israel as an “anomaly” and called on Europe to reassess its relationship with the Jewish state.
“There is an anomaly, we are often criticised by Western Europe, often more than any other place in the world. Israel is a bastion of European and western values in the heart of a very dark place,” the premier said in Budapest on the second of a three-day visit to Hungary.
“It’s time to have a re-assessment in Europe about the relationship with Israel.” Netanyahu made the remarks after holding talks with leaders from the so-called Visegrad Four group - Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - whose nationalist anti-immigration stances have also put them increasingly at odds with Brussels.
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The Israeli premier praised the Visegrad nations for supporting Israel “on several occasions” at European Union meetings. Observers say Israel is seeking closer ties to nations that can help defend its interests in international forums.
“With their backing, it will be harder for the EU to pass resolutions critical of Israel,” Middle East expert Peter Lintl told Austrian newspaper Kurier. Netanyahu is the first Israeli leader to visit Budapest since the fall of communism in 1989.
His Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban, a virulent opponent of Muslim immigration, has hailed Netanyahu as a “patriot”. “We share Israel’s notion of protecting external borders,” said Orban whose government has erected fences on its southern EU frontiers to keep out illegal asylum-seekers.
“If Europe does not cooperate with Israel, it is punishing itself,” he added. Both men are 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 Jewish billionaire George Soros.
Netanyahu’s trip comes at a sensitive time for Orban, who is under fire at home over his running battle against Hungarian-born Soros and praise of a Hungarian Nazi-allied wartime leader.
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.
However Netanyahu defended Orban on Tuesday, insisting that Hungary, as the birthplace of modern political Zionism founder Theodor Herzl, was “at the forefront” of countries fighting anti-Zionism.