Israeli president angrily criticises Irish reaction to release of Emily Hand

Isaac Herzog invites Leo Varadkar to country but is incredulous that Taoiseach had not mentioned either Israel or Hamas in tweet

Israel’s president has invited Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to visit but angrily repeated criticism of Irish political reaction to the release of Hamas kidnap victim Emily Hand and the wider situation in his country.

Isaac Herzog chastised the treatment of Israel in some Irish political “circles” saying many had not seen a terrorist and that the recent attack against a girl in Dublin represented just a “glimpse” of what his country faced.

Mr Varadkar’s tweet, stating Irish-Israeli citizen Hand (9) had been “lost”, sparked a ferocious diplomatic feud with Israel and led to the summoning of the Irish Ambassador to Israel, Sonya McGuinness.

In an interview with RTE’s Primetime programme on Tuesday, Mr Herzog maintained his country’s anger at the response, appearing incredulous that Mr Varadkar had not mentioned either Israel or Hamas in the text.


“How could it be that the Irish Government cannot say ‘Emily, little Emily, she returned from being a hostage by Hamas, abducted from her home in Kibbutz Be’eri’, what’s wrong with that?” he said.

“What’s the problem in just admitting the truth and saying ‘we are really sorry for the tragedy Israel has seen…that has befallen the people of Israel?’”

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Mr Herzog, whose family have deep ties to Ireland, explained that in Israel there was a lack of comprehension as to why Ireland was “indifferent” to the plight of his people.

“I have respect for Leo Varadkar and I definitely have respect for foreign minister [Micheál] Martin whom I met recently and we know and they have expressed the pain that Israel has endured but they don’t say it outright publicly to the people of Ireland,” he said.

“You can say we argue with Israel on its policies, you can say we argue with Israel on settlements and borders, fine, legitimate. We are a democracy, believe me it’s said here in parliament,” he said but asked again why the word Israel was not used in a Government response to the abductions.

“I invite prime minister Varadkar to visit Israel. For the first time we would finally meet him in Israel. I am eagerly looking for that the same way that I am eager to visit Ireland again.”

He repeated his respect for Ireland and his pride in his family’s historical ties. The Israeli president has previously talked about his Irish-born father’s role in liberating Nazi death camps during the second World War.

Chaim Herzog, a Zionist and Irish nationalist, was the son of the chief rabbi of Ireland. He was born in Belfast in 1918 and raised in Dublin.

However, asked if Ireland was a friend to Israel, Mr Herzog said it was an important nation with many friendship ties.

“But unfortunately, there are incidents where the political echelon is simply afraid to say the truth,” he said.

“And there are quarters in your politics who don’t know the sources of the conflict. They haven’t seen a terrorist unfortunately. And what happened recently, the tragedy that we have seen in Dublin with the attack of the young girl is only a tiny little glimpse of what we are going through as a nation.”

The death of 6,000 children in Gaza during the ongoing war was “extremely painful”, Mr Herzog said, but that efforts at peace had not worked. He said the Israeli military was not doing so intentionally and repeated his point that Israelis were butchered by terrorists.

Exploring further his ties to Ireland, Mr Herzog said he had had conversations with both President Micheal D Higgins and former president Mary Robinson regarding the situation in Israel and what options existed for peace.

“We can only envy the people of Ireland who have gone through a terrible conflict for decades and moved towards a horizon of peace. I guess it takes time because the question will be, how does one secure the safety and wellbeing of Israelis and Palestinians?”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times