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Hungary's Orban tells Israel that Jews in his country can feel safe

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a nationalist whose policies have raised concerns among Jews in his country, said on a visit to Israel on Thursday they should feel safe under his government.

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Paying a reciprocal visit to Israel a year after hosting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Budapest, Orban reaffirmed that Hungary would show “zero tolerance” for anti-Semitism.

“All of the Jewish citizens in Hungary are under the protection of the government,” Orban said, according to a Hebrew translation of his remarks to reporters in Hungarian at the start of talks with the right-wing Israeli leader.

“We are proud that in Hungary, self-identifying Jews, who celebrate and preserve Jewish tradition can feel safe.”

Last year, Orban raised concerns in Hungary’s Jewish community when he praised the country’s interwar leader Miklos Horthy, a Hitler ally, and used an image of Jewish U.S. financier George Soros in an anti-immigration billboard campaign. The World Jewish Congress estimates the Jewish population in Hungary at between 75,000 and 100,000.

Netanyahu and Orban, who won a third straight term in office last April, have found common cause on the issue of Hungarian-born Soros and his support for non-governmental organizations that have criticized their governments’ policies.

Netanyahu’s embrace of Orban has drawn criticism from Israeli opposition politicians and raised eyebrows in the European Union, where the Hungarian prime minister is regarded as an illiberal maverick.

But greeting Orban on Thursday, Netanyahu called him “a true friend of Israel”. Orban said close Israeli-Hungarian ties were due to his “excellent personal relations” with Netanyahu.

“A Hungarian patriot and a Jewish Israeli patriot will always find something in common,” Orban said.

Pledging to cooperate in “anything related to the war against anti-Semitism”, Orban said the phenomenon was on the rise in Western Europe and on the decline in Eastern Europe and also took the form of “utterances against the State of Israel”.

Netanyahu said he and Orban “both understand that the threat of radical Islam is a real one”.

Touching on a familiar theme, Orban said Europe was in a “crisis of immigration and terror”. He said “terrorists are taking advantage of the migrants’ routes to reach Europe and we have to take steps against this phenomenon”.

Hungary said on Wednesday it will quit a U.N. migration pact before its final approval, calling the agreement a “threat to the world”. [L8N1UE36N]

Editing by Richard Balmforth