Ireland's Ambassador to Israel was summoned to the Israeli Foreign Ministry for a "reprimand" on Sunday after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar used the word "lost" to refer to recently freed Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand, who was kidnapped and taken hostage by Hamas 50 days ago.
Emily, 9, was kidnapped from the Be'eri Kibbutz during an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 and was released on Saturday night as part of a temporary ceasefire deal agreed between Israel and Hamas.
Reacting to news of her release, Varadkar said it was 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 we breathe a massive sigh of relief. Our prayers have been answered," Varadkar said on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The tweet has been viewed more than 24 million times and has prompted a severe backlash among members of the international community.
Responding to the tweet, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen condemned Varadkar's use of the word "lost" and accused the Taoiseach of losing his "moral compass".
"Mr Prime Minister, It seems you have lost your moral compass and need a reality check," Cohen said. "Emily Hand was not ‘lost’, she was kidnapped by a terror organization 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!"
In a subsequent post, Cohen said he had summoned Ireland's Ambassador to Israel to the Israeli Foreign Ministry for a "reprimand".
Eylon Levy, a spokesperson for Israel's foreign media, also condemned Varadkar's statement.
"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 neighbors," Levy said on X.
Levy also criticized the Irish Government's contribution to the efforts to secure Emily's release.
"This explains the extent of Ireland's contribution: prayers."
Varadkar has responded to the criticism, stating that the vast majority of people understood what he was saying.
"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," Varadkar said in a subsequent statement.
"I've always been consistent in my condemnation of Hamas and hostage-taking."
Many people have criticized the reprimanding of the Irish Ambassador, including People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy.
"Has the Irish Government summoned the Israeli Ambassador for a reprimand for her state killing more than 6,000 children yet?" Murphy wrote on X, responding to reports that 40% of the 14,800 people killed in Gaza since October 7 have been children.
Others said Varadkar's use of the word "lost" refers to a passage in the Bible.
"For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."