Leo Varadkar said: "An innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned." Alamy Stock Photo

Varadkar responds after Israel summons Irish ambassador over his ‘lost and found’ comment in Emily Hand statement

A clarification note under Varadkar’s tweets claims its misleading to use the terms “lost” and “found”.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 26th 2023, 4:00 PM

AN TAOISEACH LEO Varadkar has responded after the Irish ambassador to Israel was summoned by the Israeli foreign minister to be reprimanded over comments he made over the release of Irish-Israeli hostage Emily Hand.

Sonya McGuinness has been summoned by the Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed this afternoon.

Upon the release of nine-year-old Hand last night, Varadkar said on X, formerly Twitter

“This is a day of enormous joy and relief for Emily Hand and her family. An innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned, and we breathe a massive sigh of relief.  Our prayers have been answered.”

In a reply to Varadkar, a spokesperson for the Israeli government Eylon Levy said: “Emily Hand wasn’t ‘lost’. She was brutally abducted by the death squads that massacred her neighbors.”

“She wasn’t ‘found’. Hamas knew where she was all along and cynically held her as a hostage. And Hamas didn’t answer your prayers. It answered Israel’s military pressure.”

The issue and controversy has since gained international traction.

The tweet sent by Varadkar was the first lines of a lengthy statement, published by the Taoiseach, in which he detailed how Emily was “snatched from her home home and held captive for almost seven weeks”.

Varadkar also noted in his original full statement the fact that Emily Hand spent her ninth birthday as a hostage.

In response to the controversy today, Varadkar said in a statement:

“It’s really good news that Emily has been released and she’s now at home with her family. The Irish government worked very hard with the Qatari, Egyptian, Israeli authorities, and the Red Cross to press for her release. And I’m really glad that she has been released and that’s the most important thing.

I think the vast majority of people understand what I was saying, recalling the amazing joy and awe that occurs when a child comes home. I’ve always been consistent in my unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and hostage taking.

I call for all hostages to be released without any conditions and I have always done so. And the Irish Government has worked very hard over the last few weeks with Egypt, with Qatar, with the Red Cross and also with Israel to secure Emily’s release. The most important thing today is that she’s at home with her family and that’s all that really matters.

Speaking earlier, a Government spokesperson said that the “Government has been clear at every stage that all hostages abducted by Hamas should be released immediately and unconditionally”.

McGuinness is expected to outline this position to the Israeli government during her meeting with the minister tomorrow. The Israeli Government on Friday also said it would summon the Spanish and Belgian ambassadors following criticisms made by those countries’ leaders on a two-day visit to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Egypt last week.

Original tweet

The remark made by Varadkar in his tweet is a reference to a New Testament Bible verse, Luke 15:24, about someone who was believed to be dead but actually was alive.

The verse reads: “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

A clarification note below the tweet, from the community on Twitter, reads: “The terms ‘lost’ and ‘found’ are misleading.

“8 year old Emily was ‘lost’ when she was kidnapped from a kibbutz by Hamas terrorists. She was ‘found’ 50 days later when she was exchanged by Hamas for 3 Palestinian prisoners.”

Earlier today, on X, Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen said he will be summoning the Irish ambassador to Israel for a reprimand after what he labelled the “outrageous” words from Varadkar.

In a statement the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland Dana Erlich said for a number of weeks Israel has been working with Irish counterparts who are all “happy to see the return of Emily Hand to her loving family”.

Erlich said: “Words matter, especially in war when lives are at stake, and when there is an increase of extreme discourse. It is important to remember Emily was kidnapped by terrorists who knew very well where she was all this time – in their hands.

“So too is still the fate for many Israeli men women and children who were kidnapped and are still held in Gaza. We continue to work and call for their immediate release,” she added.

‘Complete and utter deflection’

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics today, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty labelled the move as a “complete and utter deflection” from the debate around Israel’s siege of Gaza.

Doherty said: “Leo Varadkar statement is very clear. Emily Hand was taken hostage by Hamas. It has been condemned across the board, across the political divide and by the Taoiseach over and over again.”

“This is absolute just deflection from from Israel, who are preparing I’m sure to begin their bombardment of Gaza again after the ceasefire.

“What we need now is a focus on it to make sure that Israel doesn’t do that, that this ceasefire is a lasting ceasefire and that there is space and opportunity for dialogue and for a peace process to emerge out of what we have in the last couple of days,” he added.

Asked on the same programme if the taoiseach’s comments were “clumsy”, Minister of State Jack Chambers said Varadkar’s statement is “clear” in its reference to how Emily was taken.

Chambers said: “I absolutely reject the assertion being made here and the complete misrepresentation of the taoiseach’s statement.

“Everyone as across the political divide, is delighted that Emily Hand has been returned to her family and Tom Hand, who brought dignity and determination to having her returned.

“But this has been completely misrepresented and I absolutely reject what has been set out. The taoiseach’s statement is very clear. If anyone reads it, in terms of people being taken from their home and held captive, and if you read anything else he has said as well – I think anyone everybody knows his integrity on this issue,” Chambers added.

The taoiseach met Emily Hand’s family and the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland last week where he pledged that he would use all channels of communication to pursue Emily’s release.

Varadkar spoke to the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, having previously raised Emily Hand’s case with the Palestinian Prime Minister, the Egyptian Foreign Minister and Prince Rashid of Jordan.

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore said the comments about the taoiseach are “disgraceful” and reiterated her party’s call to expel the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland. 

“I think the comments from the Israelis in relation to the taoiseach are disgraceful, but it’s not the first time that we’ve had them.

“We’ve had comments about what our president has said, we’ve have officials within the embassy saying that that our government has funded Hamas.

“We cannot accept that kind of language and those statements to go out worldwide either and I think it’s really important that the taoiseach address this,” she added.

“The Social Democrats call for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador, and we will reiterate those calls because it is really important they’re held to account for this language. We’ve seen nothing but propaganda during this this 50 days,” Whitmore said.

With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald