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When Elon Musk agrees that Conor McGregor should run for office, reality has overtaken parody

The swelling mass of manufactured outrage unleashed by the Israeli foreign minister’s tweet was something to behold

There are no limits to human misunderstanding, wrote the historian and diplomat Harold Nicolson. “The line of comprehension runs strict and narrow as a military canal while the area of incomprehension possesses no outline at all, but fades beyond the horizon, having the immensity and the countless silly smiles of the Pacific Ocean.”

He was describing the jeopardy of public speaking 76 years ago, well before the arrival of Twitter/X, where an audience might seem educated, informed and capable of using their minds – until “one becomes aware that, by some curious process of transmutation, one’s words have assumed in the minds of one’s hearers totally different and unwanted shapes.”

This roughly describes what happened on Sunday when Eli Cohen, Israel’s foreign minister, read the Taoiseach’s tweet rejoicing that Emily Hand was “lost but was found” and somehow discerned in it the words of someone who had lost their moral compass and worse, was “trying to legitimise and normalise terror”.

Whereupon in a normal world, the Israeli ambassador here would have been yanked into an icy basement office for a few words about her boss’s qualifications for the job of chief diplomat. It is no trivial matter to accuse the prime minister of a peaceful democracy – itself with a recent bloody history of violence – of wanting to legitimise and normalise terror. To have one’s moral compass questioned by a country currently displacing a million and a half of its neighbours and demolishing their homes while continuing to build illegal settlements on their territory smacks of parody.


At one level it is possible to empathise with Jewish anger at the kind of passive, reductionist language often used to describe the atrocities of October 7th. An open letter from 80 writers in the New York Review of Books for example outlined them as follows: “On Saturday, after sixteen years of siege, Hamas militants broke out of Gaza. More than 1,300 Israelis were subsequently killed with over one hundred more taken hostage”.

As Gal Beckerman of The Atlantic put it, “the long history of excuses for every totalitarian ideology can be reduced to that nasty combination of three words [’were subsequently killed’] from minds who simply refuse to confront the uncomfortable reality that the murder of babies and elderly peace activists was committed in the name of a cause they support”. It would have cost them nothing, he said, to also call out Hamas for its crimes alongside Israel for its reaction to them.

With all that work on his plate, why Eli Cohen would choose to target Leo Varadkar is another question.

It’s a safe bet that up to that point many Irish people, though deeply shocked by Israel’s scorched-earth passage through Gaza, were still attempting to weigh it in the context of global anti-Semitism, the Hamas atrocities of October 7th and Israel’s agony over its hostages, plus such nauseating spectacles as the Hamas militants in balaclavas posing as tender, solicitous caregivers at the hostage handovers.

But Cohen’s senseless outburst has almost certainly shifted that dial. Forcing people to choose by firing heinous accusations at an elected leader is hardly a smart day’s work for any diplomat, unless the ultimate goal is to chill all comment.

Nor can the nature of some of his online support have burnished his reputation. A few hours after Cohen’s Sunday tweet, Conor McGregor was on the bandwagon, quote-tweeting Cohen and accusing Varadkar, his Government and “your paid for media affiliates” of “constantly downplaying/attempting to repress horrific acts that happen to children ... We will not forget”. The swelling mass of manufactured outrage was something to behold. His tweet attracted over 17 million views (according to Twitter/X’s hate-o-meter metrics).

Bitcoiners, MMA/NFT hucksters, Maga fans and military types with three followers were prominent. A Kentucky fan was not surprised “the EU would incest Ireland with another culture” and a Coventry man and a “gun toting” American promised McGregor their vote.

McGregor’s hate-filled language took a fresh turn last week. The night before the children and their carer were stabbed in the north city he declared that Ireland was at war. He instructed his followers: “Do not let any Irish property be took over unannounced. Evaporate said property. It’s a war.”

In a later post, he said he did not condone the riots but “I do understand frustrations ... and I do understand a move must be made to ensure the change we need is ushered in”. From his renowned high temple of integrity, he was demanding change and suggested great plans were afoot: “I am in the process of arranging. Believe me I am way more tactical and I have backing ... If they do not act soon ... to ensure Ireland’s safety, I will”.

The moronic boosts coming from Elon Musk, clearly irritated by hate-speech legislation – “ironically the Irish PM hates the Irish people” – suggested a dovetailing of interests. Soon Musk was agreeing with someone that McGregor should run for office and a local betting firm, possibly with a 13-year-old on duty, thought it was cool to place odds on his chances in the general and president election.

To no one’s surprise, statements from McGregor are among a range of social media posts being examined by a Garda investigation following the riots.

Of course, no one would accuse Eli Cohen of supporting the vile views of his followers. Sometimes you have to take a deep breath and hope that people will exercise good faith, common sense and generosity before they rush to judgment.