Hungary's Viktor Orbán Prays at Western Wall on Last Day of Israel Visit

Controversial leader prays at one of Judaism's holiest sites, expresses interest in returning with family

Viktor Orban praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, July 20, 2018.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán visited Jerusalem's Western Wall on Friday, promising he would continue his support of Israel.

On the final day of his two-day visit to the country, wearing a black hat, Orbán paused and closed his eyes as he touched the massive ancient structure, which is considered one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

He was accompanied around the plaza by Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who also explained to Orbán a model of the Temple Mount site at the top of the wall. 

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The Western Wall Heritage Fund said in a statement Friday that Orbán emphasized the importance of being connected to history and had expressed an interest in returning with his family for a more in-depth tour of the Kotel. 

Viktor Orban standing next to the Western Wall in Jerusalem on the final day of his official visit to Israel, July 20, 2018.

The visit – Orbán's first to Israel as prime minister – is a sign of the strong ties between the controversial Hungarian statesman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who shares Orbán's conservative, anti-immigrant agenda. 

Under Netanyahu, Israel has veered closer to the Visegrád Group of Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary – four nations known for taking a hard-line stance on migration issues. 

Netanyahu has found common cause with Orbán in issuing fierce attacks on asylum seekers and against billionaire Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, who supports left-wing causes in both their countries.

Orbán has faced accusations of anti-Semitism for campaigning against Soros, who is Jewish, and praising Hungarian leader Miklós Horthy, an ally of Adolf Hitler who cooperated with the Nazis.

"In Hungary there is zero tolerance toward any anti-Semitic expression. All Jewish-Hungarian citizens are under the protection of the government," Orbán said during his trip

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, center, looking at a model of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound with Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, right, during his visit to the Western Wall, July 20, 2018.
Sebastian Scheiner/AP

"You have stood up for Israel time and time again in international forums, it is deeply appreciated and it is important," Netanyahu told his counterpart, adding that both leaders "understand that the threat of radical Islam is a real one." 

The head of one of Israel's main opposition parties had condemned the visit as a "disgrace," and protesters had briefly blocked the Hungarian leader's convoy from leaving the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem after he had lit a candle of remembrance there.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban placing a note in the Western Wall in Jerusalem, July 20, 2018.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem, July 20, 2018.