'Grateful for your dissenting voice': Taoiseach and Tánaiste receive mixed messages on Israel-Hamas stance

James Cox

Since Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7th, the Government's calls for Israeli restraint in the escalating conflict have been stronger than the stance in many EU member states.

Indeed, the Government's stance has drawn the ire of Israeli officials. Israel's foreign minister has criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on a number of occasions, while Israeli ambassador Dana Erlich has been a prominent name in Irish news headlines, even accusing President Michael D Higgins of spreading misinformation.

While Coalition leaders have said Israel has the right to defend itself, the Taoiseach said the country's response to the Hamas attack “resembles something more approaching revenge”.

“I think it’s very important we never forget where this started. This phase of the conflict started with a Hamas attack on Israel, where 1,400 civilians were killed. I strongly believe that, like any state, Israel has the right to defend itself, has the right to go after Hamas so that they cannot do this again.

“But what I’m seeing unfolding at the moment isn’t just self-defence. It looks, it resembles something more approaching revenge. That’s not where we should be, and I don’t think that’s how Israel will guarantee its future freedom and its future security."

He also said: “collective punishment is a breach of humanitarian law, but there’s a process by which these things are determined, and I don’t stand in judgement in that sense.

“But certainly the targeting of civilians, collective punishment, these are breaches of humanitarian law, whoever commits them.”

Tánaiste Micheál Martin and other government leaders have taken a similar stance to the Taoiseach.

As Israel resumed strikes on Gaza on Friday as a temporary truce with Hamas expired, the issue is likely to dominate political discourse once again.

Both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have received hundreds of messages on their comments regarding Israel and Hamas since October 7th.

A sample of these letters and emails, seen by BreakingNews.ie following a Freedom of Information request, shows a mixed public response with some praising the response while others accuse the Government of being anti-Israel.

I am very grateful that you are a dissenting voice.

One letter to Mr Varadkar, six days after Hamas' attack, thanked him for being a "dissenting voice".

"Dear Mr Varadkar,

"I am dismayed to find that there are very few people condemning the actions of Israel towards the Palestinian civil population.

"I am very grateful that you are a dissenting voice and have criticised the switching off of power and water and supplies to the Palestinian people.

"More of the same please in a louder voice and keep up the good work."

Other messages to the Taoiseach and Tánaiste suggested Ireland should take refugees from Gaza, "at least until the situation is resolved".

One less complimentary email to the Taoiseach on October 11th had the subject line: 'Nobody cares about you."

It read: "Nobody in Israel or the European Union cares about what you have to say, really nobody! Israel has the right to defend its country and its citizens. So please be quiet, nobody is interested in your opinion. Democratic countries of the western world will support Israel. I am sure that people in Ireland will support Israel too, and that they also don't care about your opinion! No money and no food for terrorists!"

Others agreed with Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin's stance, but argued that they should make more effort in pushing for a ceasefire or sanctions.

"I have been so disappointed by the lack of vim in your condemnation of the unfolding ethnic cleansing of Gaza that I will no longer support Fine Gael," one person wrote in an email to the Taoiseach.

One Jewish person in Ireland wrote an impassioned letter to Mr Varadkar in which they expressed their fears about the conflict.

"You are now asking for restraint and to lower the temperature. We have heard lower the temperature once before, and it was done at the crematoriums in Auschwitz to save fuel.

"I am living in Ireland and am the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. Jewish blood has always been cheap. The IDF stands for the Israeli Defence Force. It defends. It is never the aggressor.

"As a Jew living in Ireland, which is very clearly pro-Palestine, I feel nervous and honestly I feel scared. 'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free', means the full extermination of Jews and Israel. Where do you or any of the politicians want us to go??

"If a terror organisation came into Dublin or Kildare or Sligo and slaughtered your women, children, babies, elderly or men, what would you do? What would you do if a terror organisation went into Electric Picnic and slaughtered innocent civilians and then raped women next to their dead friends who were there just to live life or enjoy music - what would you do?

"What would your citizens want to do? It certainly wouldn't be to 'lower the temperature'.

"Thank you for your time and I hope you can remain open minded, and please stand with the people of Israel."

You had the courage to see through the smoking ban. Have you courage still?

One person compared Mr Martin's stance with his work in bringing in the smoking ban in 2004.

"Micheál Martin, this is what I will remember you for. Whether or not you stand with Palestine when they are being bombed and starved by Israel.

"Please do not disgrace Ireland's history. If you do not support Palestine, I will remind everyone I know about the humanitarian crimes that Fianna Fáil stood by on.

"You had the courage to see through the smoking ban. Have you courage still? When a race of people is being annihilated, it is no time for realpolitik."

On October 11th, one person asked Mr Varadkar why Ireland had not lit state buildings up with Israeli colours, like some other European countries have done since the beginning of the conflict.

"Should we not show our support for Israel in a similar manner? Our lack of such a display could be seen as an indication of an unspoken support for Palestinian terrorism.

"If we as a nation cannot openly show support for a nation who have had their citizens murdered in such barbaric ways, babies' heads cut off, children murdered, women stripped naked and raped and murdered, and hundreds kidnapped and held hostage, then I think we are in danger of moral cowardice."

The reports of children being beheaded are unverified Israeli reports.

Another person thanked Mr Varadkar for his government's stance on Israeli bombardment of Gaza, despite having some previous problems with the Fine Gael leader.

On October 13th, they wrote: "As a FG voter, you can be a bit of a [redacted] at times. However, I am full of admiration for your conscientious and intelligent position on the Israel/Gaza situation.

"I am proud as an Irishman having you as our leader."

On the same day, another person thanked the Taoiseach for calling for restraint, while comparing Ireland with Germany's "pro-Israel mood".

They mentioned German politician Saskia Esken cancelling a meeting with US senator Bernie Sanders over his support for Palestine.

Thank you for calling for restraint and please do so again and again.

"Thank you for calling for restraint and please do so again and again," they wrote, while drawing attention to the "extreme pro-Israel mood in Germany".

"Saskia Esken, SPD, cancelled a meeting with Bernie Sanders over his support for Palestine. This attitude of deep racism towards Palestinians pervades society. The biggest Palestinian community in Europe lives in Berlin and I would very much appreciate it if Ireland could speak out about this."

Another person wrote: "I want to thank you for your clear, unambiguous and carefully thought out rejection of violence, cruelty and mayhem. Your excellent dealing with the aftermath of the terrible and savage killing of innocent people in Israel and the Gaza Strip is commendable and a surer gateway to peace than the attitude of other leaders in the EU and US."

Another email saw the Government urged to confront the United States over their support for Israel. It also said People Before Profit was "right".

They did not elaborate on this, but presumably it refers to the party's calls for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the referral of Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Dated October 15th, it read: "What has Ireland communicated with the US on their backing of Israeli [redacted] of Palestinians. The USA should not back Israel and People Before Profit were right."

As Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Martin received a number of critical messages, as the Taoiseach did.

"Shame on you and your bias during this appalling time in Israel," one person wrote.

In response to the Tánaiste's calls for peace talks, another person said: "Hamas and Hezbollah will never entertain peace talks, they are both terror groups. You said that 'it was vital a voice of moderation come to the fore'... are you living in the real world?"

Other letters called for sanctions to be placed on Israel.

This is a moment in history to be counted with your influence.

One on October 16th read: "Cut all diplomatic ties, trade and military ties with Israel. Demand the EU does the same and criticise the inaction of both the EU and the US enabling Israeli war crimes.

"This is a moment in history to be counted with your influence."

The following day, another person wrote: "As Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, I urge you to work with our Government leaders to pursue a strategy of sanctions and genuine actions. It is so important that Ireland emphasises that Israel should and will be subject to sanctions should they continue to breach international law, as has rightly been done with financial, trade and diplomatic sanctions against Russia."

One letter the same day, addressed to Mr Varadkar, Mr Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, asked the Coalition leaders to make a direct appeal to US president Joe Biden.

"Dear Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister Ryan

"I sincerely urge you to advise president Joe Biden, and other leaders, to take a more balanced and measured approach with the Israelis, just like past American politicians and diplomats did in our own island's senseless and bloody war up North."