The row began when Emily Hand, a nine-year-old Irish-Israeli dual national, was released by the Palestinian militants and reunited with her family after being held in Gaza for 50 days.
Varadkar posted on X, formerly Twitter, late on Saturday: “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 our country breathes a massive sigh of relief. Our prayers have been answered.”
Backlash immediately started to build on the social media platform as people rushed to point out Hand was one of Hamas’ estimated 240 hostages, seized amid the militants’ massacre of 1,200 people in Israel on October 7.
On Sunday, the Taoiseach posted the full statement, which included five more paragraphs and acknowledged Hand’s time in captivity and the “torture” her family went through in her absence.
Enterprise minister Simon Coveney later claimed the first sentence is a reference to the biblical term of being “lost and found”.
It’s thought to be a loose allusion to the Bible’s Parable of the Prodigal Son, which describes someone who “was dead and is alive” and “was lost, and is found”.
However, Israel’s foreign minister Eli Cohen slammed the statement because it did not use the word “kidnap” or name Hamas.
He posted on X: “Mr Prime Minister, it seems you have lost your moral compass and need a reality check.
“Emily Hand was not ‘lost’ she was kidnapped by a terror organisation worse than Isis that murdered her stepmother. Emily and more than 30 other Israeli children were taken hostage by Hamas and you @LeoVaradkar are trying to legitimise and normalise terror. Shame on you!”
Cohen said he had summoned Ireland’s ambassador, Sonya McGuinness, to Israel for a formal reprimand, which Dublin expects to happen on Monday, according to POLITICO.
Social media critics also slammed Varadkar’s bible reference because it comes from the New Testament, rather than the Old Testament which is used in Judaism.
Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesperson, also said Varadkar’s words were comparable to someone who went missing during a walk in the woods.
“This is how you describe a little girl who went missing during a stroll in a forest, then gets discovered by a friendly hiker. Not a girl brutally abducted by death squads that brutally massacred her neighbours. But this explains the extent of Ireland’s contribution: prayers,” Levy posted on X.
He also posted a picture of a “lost and found” box and added the caption: “No wonder the Irish government opposes Israel’s military pressure on Hamas to release innocent hostages. It thought Emily Hand was hiding here.”
The Israeli embassy in Dublin also appeared to subtly criticise Varadkar’s comments, saying: “Words matter, especially in war when lives are at stake, and when there is an increase of extreme discourse.”
But, Ireland’s foreign minister Micheal Martin told Irish outlet RTE said he was surprised that Israel had responded so strongly as it was just a reflection of “happiness”. He added: “I don’t think anything more should be read into it.”
In a later statement, Varadkar also said: “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.”
Spain and Belgium’s ambassadors have also been summoned to Jerusalem over their leaders’ comments recently, after their governments called for a permanent ceasefire.
All three of the country’s leaders have called for innocent civilians to stop being killed and for more humanitarian aid to be sent to Gaza.