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Washington DC

Varadkar denies softening language on Gaza during US trip, says tailoring message for audience needed

Taoiseach says ‘there’s nothing I wouldn’t say here that I wouldn’t say back home’.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has denied that he is softening down his language on Gaza when addressing an American audience.

There was a notable difference in Varadkar’s language on Gaza in his speech at the Ireland Funds gala dinner last night compared to an earlier speech in Boston whereby he told the crowd that “innocent men, women and children” in Gaza should not be subject to collective punishment.

When he did mention Gaza last night, there was a lukewarm applause compared to the reaction to his comments about Ukraine.

Asked by reporters this morning if his use of the term “humiliation” of the Palestinian people rather than explicit references to death was an indication of rolling back his rhetoric, Varadkar said: “No, not at all.”

Need to tailor the message

He said he would not be softening his tone or language on the issue but said there was a need to tailor messaging to specific audiences.

“Just to be clear, there’s nothing I wouldn’t say here that I wouldn’t say back home, or vice versa, so you know, just to be clear on that.

“But I think any time you speak to any audience, or any time you go anywhere in the world, you know, we have to get the tone right and tailor the message for the audience. Anytime you go anywhere in the world you have to get the tone right. And you have to tailor the message for the audience that’s hearing it.”

He added: “What I said back home, about Palestine and Gaza, I’ll be saying here too and I think I’ve used the term collective punishment in relation to Palestinians.”

Varadkar said he appreciates that there will be different opinions in the US in relation to Israel and Gaza, stating that there is “very strong and historic support for Israel in the US for lots of different reasons”.

He added: 

But that’s not going to deflect me from saying what I feel needs to be said.

Varadkar has said he will use the special platform of St Patrick’s Day to press US President Joe Biden to back a ceasefire in the Middle East.

When put to him that there was a change in the language between his speech in Boston, whereby the audience would primarily be Irish-American, to his speech last night to a room full of power-brokers and politicians, Varadkar told The Journal

Look, I wouldn’t read too much into it. I’ll be making plenty of speeches here in DC and I’ll have a lot to say about Ukraine and a lot to say about Palestine too.

Varadkar said he has used various language on different occasions, adding that he will “certainly will not be softening my tone and language”, stating that he has used the term “collective punishment in relation to Palestinians”.

“That’s a pretty strong term, because we all know what that means – it’s a violation of international humanitarian law.”

The Taoiseach said that he often has to make speeches to different audiences, highlighting that last week at the EPP Congress in Bucharest, he was speaking to a primarily German audience.

“It’s a bit different than that if you’re speaking to somebody back home and you have to be able to get the tone right as best you can and tailor the message in a way that people will will hear and understand, that’s the objective, to try and influence people,” he said. 

“In Europe it is actually a bit more like America, it is much more divided,” he said, adding that he was struck by the number of people approaching him at the EPP Congress last week from sister political parties, who thanked him for raising the issue of Palestine and who said they were becoming “increasingly uncomfortable” the the position their own government or party was taking on Israel. 

“I actually found that extremely encouraging and I didn’t didn’t expect it so that kind of encouraged me to keep doing it,” he said.

Varadkar added that he has experienced no pushback about any of the comments he has made about Palestine while in the US.  

The Journal also asked if he had any criticism of First Minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill’s speech, whereby she made only a passing reference to the conflict in the Middle East.

Varadkar said he had “no criticism whatsoever to make”.

Varadkar hailed the significance of the speeches from O’Neill and O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little Pengellyat the Ireland Funds dinner last night, stating that it was “powerful” to see them take the stage together.

“For people at the Ireland Funds dinner, you know people who’ve helped to raise $600 million for Ireland over the past few decades, I think for them to see that and to see that the Good Friday Agreement is working again, personified in Michelle and Emma, really was my highlight last night,” he concluded.