Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday ended a brief but controversial trip to Israel with a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Wearing a dark hat in homage to Jewish practice that says men must not go bare-headed, Orban arrived at the Western Wall — the holiest place at which Jews are allowed to pray — accompanied by its rabbi, Shmuel Rabinovitch.
He placed a note in a crack, in keeping with the tradition of slipping written prayers or requests in between the stones, which formed a retaining wall of the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in the first century CE.
Orban and his wife, Aniko Levai, also heard a historical account of the adjacent Temple Mount, looking at a model of the site.
While he extolled his country’s burgeoning ties with Israel during his visit, the Hungarian premier, who arrived on Wednesday evening, has been accused of fanning anti-Jewish sentiment back home.
“I can assure the prime minister that Hungary has a policy of zero tolerance toward anti-Semitism,” Orban told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday.
His host defended the visitor against accusations of stoking anti-Semitism.
“I heard you speak as a true friend of Israel about the need to combat anti-Semitism,” Netanyahu said, noting that Orban’s government had spent millions of dollars renovating synagogues.
Orban, who described Netanyahu and himself as “a Jewish patriot and a Hungarian patriot,” lauded cooperation between the two nations.
On Thursday Orban also laid a wreath and lit a candle in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
He stayed silent for most of the ceremony, and signed his name and his wife’s name in the guest book, but did not add any words, as visiting leaders often do.
Yad Vashem said in a statement that Orban’s tour “included details regarding the cooperation of Hungarian authorities with Nazi Germany under the leadership of Miklós Horthy and his successor.”
A year ago, Orban hailed as an “exceptional statesman” Hungary’s wartime leader and Nazi ally Horthy, who enacted anti-Jewish laws and under whose watch over half a million Jews were deported to Auschwitz during the Holocaust.
Orban has also come under fire for launching a poster campaign targeting the Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist George Soros, accusing him of seeking to flood the country with refugees.
In a break with protocol for EU leaders, who usually visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah during such trips, Orban did not meet the Palestinian leader.
Netanyahu has sought closer ties with European nations willing to provide strong backing to Israel at the United Nations and in the European Union.
Hungary in December abstained when the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to reject the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
It also joined the Czech Republic and Romania in blocking an EU statement criticizing Washington’s decision to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem.
“You have stood up for Israel time and time again in international forums,” Netanyahu said Thursday. “It is deeply appreciated, and it is important.”