The European Commission sent a formal letter of notice to Hungary, the first step of an infringement procedure, over the government's "Stop Soros" law during the second day of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's visit to Israel. The law has been named after Hungarian-American billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, whose foundations support some of the Hungarian civic groups targeted by the legislation.
The law, which threatens aid workers and human rights advocates working with asylum-seekers with up to a year in prison, was approved by parliament last month along with a set of constitutional amendments.
Orban's Fidesz party has rejected the EU infringement procedure, saying it "confirms that Brussels favors migration and defends to Soros organizations."
Anyone in Hungary who declares himself a Jew can feel safe in Hungary, Orban said Thursday morning as he met with Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu as he kicked off an official two-day visit.
Orban paid a visit to Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center Thursday where demonstrators gathered outside the center in protest of his visit.
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Orban told Netanyahu that he believes "excellent ties between Israel and Hungary" are in large part the result of personal ties between the leaders – and that he thinks "this is because both countries have a patriotic leader."
The Hungarian leader also asserted that "modern anti-Semitism" is on the rise in western Europe while decreasing in eastern Europe, adding that Hungary has zero tolerance for anti-Semitic statements.
Netanyahu told Orban that they both understand the threat that radical Islam poses to Europe, Israel and Arab countries. "Iran is the greatest threat and we are the front-line protecting Europe as well," Netanyahu said. The prime minister also thanked Orban for Hungary's support for Israel on the international stage.
EU refers Hungarian asylum policies to European court
Hungary has been referred to the European Union's highest court for perceived failings to comply with the bloc's asylum rules and is facing censure for legislation criminalizing the support of asylum-seekers by civic groups.
In a statement Thursday, the EU's executive arm said it made the decision to turn to the courts — the last stage of a procedure that began in December 2015 — because it considered "the majority of the concerns raised have still not been addressed."
Among other points, the European Commission considers Hungary's asylum procedures too restrictive, with reception conditions for asylum-seekers also seen breaching EU rules.
Relations between the EU and Hungary have been strained in part by the strict anti-migration and anti-refugee positions of Orban's government. Orban, re-elected earlier this year, has been at the forefront of keeping migrants from war zones such as Syria out of Europe since the crisis became particularly acute in 2015.
The EU also objected to Hungary's procedure rejecting asylum-seekers, saying "it fails to ensure that return decisions are issued individually and include information on legal remedies."
As a result, it said migrants "risk being returned without the appropriate safeguards and in breach of the non-refoulement principle," which forbids the return of asylum-seekers to places where they could be at risk of persecution.
In a statement, the party said Hungary's anti-migration laws "evidently bother all those who want to flood Europe with migrants." It said it considered the current procedure as a "new political pressure on our homeland and proves that Soros has his people in the commission in Brussels."
Amnesty International called the EU decision "a clear and unambiguous message that Hungary's xenophobic policies will not be tolerated."
Hungary built fences on its southern borders to divert the flow of migrants in late 2015 and Orban has said repeatedly that the influx into Europe of mostly Muslim migrants must be stopped or the continent's Christian values, lifestyle and culture will be lost.
The United Nations, the Council of Europe and other international bodies also have been highly critical of Hungary's anti-migration rules, comments which Orban's government usually dismisses as biased and unfounded.