The Israeli government on Sunday harshly criticized Leo Varadkar, the Irish Prime Minister, after he made a statement about Hamas during the hostage exchange with Israel in recent days. The controversy, which is in all likelihood more linked to a misunderstanding than anything else, has nevertheless shed light on the complicated relations between Israel and Ireland, a country where public opinion and the government are considered among the most pro- Palestinians in Europe.
The little Israeli-Irish girl’s name is Emily Hand and she was kidnapped by Hamas militants during the attack on Israeli civilians on October 7. She was released on Saturday and, shortly after her release, Varadkar posted a tweet, part of a longer statement, which read: “This is a day of enormous joy and relief for Emily Hand and her family. An innocent little girl was lost and found, and we are all breathing a huge sigh of relief. Our prayers have been heard. »
This is a day of immense joy and relief for Emily Hand and her family. A lost innocent child has now been found and returned, and we breathe a huge sigh of relief. Our prayers were answered.
– Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) November 25, 2023
The full statement is much longer, but Varadkar or those responsible for his communications initially decided to publish only this sentence, without any reference to Hamas.
Shortly after, one of the Israeli government spokesmen responded to Varadkar in writing : “This is how we describe a little girl who gets lost during a walk in the forest and is found by a hiker. Not a little girl who was brutally kidnapped by a death squad who massacred her neighbors. But that explains what Ireland’s help was limited to: prayers. »
The spokesperson was joined shortly after by Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who also wrote on Twitter that Varadkar had “lost his moral compass” and was trying to “legitimize and normalize terrorism.” On Sunday evening, the Israeli government summoned the Irish ambassador to Israel, to officially complain about Varadkar’s statement.
Mr Prime Minister,It seems that you have lost your moral sense and that you need to face reality! Emily Hand wasn’t “lost”, she was kidnapped by a terrorist organization worse than ISIS who murdered her mother-in-law. Emily and more than 30 other Israeli children were taken hostage by Hamas,… https://t.co/CD5wIZJN4i
— אלי כהן | Eli Cohen (@elicoh1) November 26, 2023
In the face of criticism, Varadkar and the Irish government claimed there had been a misunderstanding. On Sunday, Varadkar released the full statement on Policy however, he noticed that at least initially, the entire statement was not publicly available and therefore, for a time, the initial tweet was the only public communication about Hand’s release.
Some in the government said Varadkar’s initial tweet was indeed clumsy, but rather an attempt to use biblical language: referring to Emily Hand as someone who had been “lost » and “found” is a quote from parable of the prodigal son , a famous passage from the Bible. The problem is that the parable is contained in the New Testament, that is, in the part of the Bible which is considered a sacred text only by Christians and not by Jews.
The controversy surrounding Varadkar’s statements comes against the backdrop of increasingly complicated relations between Ireland and Israel. Public opinion – for historical and social reasons including a certain identification between the Irish and Palestinian nationalist movements – tends to be very close to the Palestinian cause: according to investigations 51 percent of Irish sympathize with the Palestinians (only 10 percent with the Israelis) and 71 percent believe that Israel’s military action against the Gaza Strip is disproportionate.
This proximity also applies to government and politics. In 1980, Ireland was the first European country to recognize the Palestinian state, and even today there is great proximity: in recent weeks, some MPs have appeared in Parliament wearing a keffiyeh, the traditional head scarf of Arab culture, today become a symbol. Palestinian symbol. Also in recent weeks, Varadkar’s government has been among the most critical of Israel: Foreign Minister Michael Martin called the war in Gaza “disproportionate” and Varadkar himself defined Israeli military action as “collective punishment”.
After the major controversies of recent days, Varadkar was still trying to justify himself. In an interview on Irish television RTÉ he said: “I have always been clear in my condemnation of Hamas and the hostage taking. I call for the unconditional release of the hostages, and that is what I have always done.”