How charming of Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to tweet of his “enormous joy and relief” that nine-year-old Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand has been reunited with 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.”
Just the one problem. Emily wasn’t exactly lost on a walk in the sand dunes. She was kidnapped by a brutal terrorist organisation which had just murdered hundreds of her compatriots, and only kept her alive so that she could be used as a human shield in the inevitable military campaign against it. Varadkar may point to a longer statement in which he called Emily a “hostage”, and acknowledged that there were some other hostages still being held in Gaza, but sorry, his tweet belies a serious problem which Varadkar and his government have with Hamas.
His full statement, by the way, didn’t include the word “Hamas” nor properly mention the wider context of her kidnapping, as part of a terror attack. It did, however, reiterate the call for a ceasefire made by his foreign minister Micheal Martin two weeks ago, a call which effectively tells Israel: sorry, but you must not do as every other country in the world would after a murderous attack by a foreign entity – launch a military action to try to neutralise the threat and make it clear that your attackers will not be allowed to win. No, you must lay down your arms, accept these things happen and maybe sing a few peace songs.
Varadkar tries to pose as an international peace broker, but his words speak of somewhat lopsided sympathies. Earlier this month he didn’t have a problem condemning Israel of overreacting, and doing so by name. He told reporters: “What I’m seeing unfolding at the moment isn’t just self-defence. It looks like… it resembles something more approaching revenge.”
His difficulty in reckoning with Hamas as the terror organisation it is follows a long history of Irish sympathy for Palestinian terrorism. In 1980, long before the PLO renounced terrorism, the then government of Charles Haughey decided to recognise the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Ireland has long been a supporter of a two-state solution in the Middle East – which is fair enough and one which I sympathise with – but did Haughey or any of his successors really think that a peaceful settlement was made more likely by recognising an organisation which had just spend two decades facilitating terrorist attack after attack?
Ireland’s troubled relationship with Palestinian terror didn’t begin with Varadkar. The cause has long been romanticised as a struggle against colonial oppression, likened to Ireland’s own birth as a nation. But Varadkar’s apparent inability to see Hamas for what it is continues to shame his nation. Until he comprehensively recognises Hamas as terrorists, and frames his policies and statements on that basis, he can forget trying to position himself as an international statesman.