JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday welcomed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, calling him a "true friend of Israel" despite the outcry over the visiting leader's past remarks that have been interpreted as anti-Semitic.
Orban and Netanyahu held a joint press conference in Jerusalem following the Hungarian premier's arrival in Israel the day before.
The four-time Hungarian prime minister drew criticism last year for praising Miklos Horthy — Hungary's World War II-era ruler who introduced anti-Semitic laws and collaborated with the Nazis — and employing tropes that were anti-Semitic in tone against billionaire philanthropist George Soros during his re-election campaign.
Orban evoked anti-Semitic language in denouncing Soros, saying that Hungary's enemies "do not believe in work, but speculate with money; they have no homeland, but feel that the whole world is theirs."
Despite global Jewish condemnation of those remarks, Netanyahu praised Orban for combating anti-Semitism and thanked him for Hungary's pro-Israel stance.
Netanyahu said the two leaders shared an understanding "that the threat of radical Islam is a real one. It could endanger Europe. It could endanger the world. It certainly endangers us and our Arab neighbors."
Orban has cast himself as champion of a Christian Europe and adopted an aggressive stance to halt the flow of African and Muslim migrants through Hungary.
The populist, right-wing politician campaigned earlier this year for re-election on a staunchly anti-migrant platform.
Orban chalked up his country's strong bilateral ties with Israel to the two leaders' "excellent personal ties" and "because the two countries have patriots as leaders."
Netanyahu visited Hungary last year — the first visit by an Israeli premier since the 1980s — and was warmly received by Orban. During the trip, Orban said the European Union's ties with Israel were "not rational enough," criticizing its stipulation that closer ties would follow resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Israeli premier has taken flak in Israel for embracing Orban amid the Hungarian leader's increasing authoritarianism, as well as for striking a deal with Poland over a controversial Holocaust speech law. Critics of the compromise with Poland contend Netanyahu appeared to capitulate to the claim that Poles were only victims of the Nazis. Historians say anti-Semitism was prevalent in pre-war Poland and that some Poles collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust.
Opposition lawmaker Yair Lapid, whose father was a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, scorned Netanyahu ahead of his meeting with Orban.
"After he disrespected the memory of Holocaust victims in the agreement with Poland, today Netanyahu will pay honors to Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, who hailed and praised the anti-Semitic ruler who collaborated with the Nazis in destroying the Jews of Hungary," Lapid wrote on Twitter. "Shame!"
Lapid and fellow opposition politician Tamar Zandberg, head of the Meretz party, called for a boycott of Orban's visit.
"Netanyahu has a thing with anti-Semitic leaders around the world, from Hungary and Poland, to the head of the Philippines, (Rodrigo) Duterte, who compared himself to Hitler, and instead of suffering condemnation, was invited as well for a state visit with the prime minister of Israel," Zandberg wrote on Facebook.
Protesters were later expected to demonstrate at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, during Orban's visit there.
Amnesty International in Israel organized a protest against Orban's visit to the memorial, rejecting "restraint toward the words of praise for anti-Semitism, for racism and anti-democratic persecution."