December 3, 2001

Red Cross non-recognition of its Israeli counterpart stains its record.For those of us born

after the Holocaust and living in the West, the rumble of institutional

anti-semitism often resonates as a faint echo from a past that is not

entirely recognizable. We take for granted that Jewish organizations,

whose reach is international and whose work extends well beyond local

concerns, will be accorded respect by the wider community of nations.

Nevertheless, once in a while this belief is rattled by an incident that

raises the lid on the steaming hatred that still seems to seethe just

below the surface of even the most benign causes.

That happened in November when American Red Cross President Bernadine

Healy abruptly announced her resignation. The International Red Cross

is one of the most idealized and best-known humanitarian causes. But for

50 years there has been a disquieting aspect to this organization’s work.

It will not recognize nor admit to its ranks a sister organization in

Israel – Magen David Adom. The ostensible reason for this is that the

Magen David Adom’s symbol, a red Star of David, does not conform to the

accepted images of the IRC – a cross or a red crescent. Magen David Adom,

in existence for 70 years and carrying out life-saving functions all over

the world, has repeatedly requested admittance to the international body

but has been just as regularly rebuffed. Meanwhile, the American Red Cross

has quietly acquiesced in this blatant prejudicial policy for years.

That was until Healy became president of the national

body. Recognizing that nothing short of a divorce would shake the international

body’s resolve to maintain its policy, Healy fought a long and bitter

campaign to compel the roof body to own up to its discriminatory practices.

The American Red Cross withheld its annual dues from the international

body for two years while Healy embarked on personal diplomacy that stirred

up a hornet’s nest of accusations of wrongdoing in the international center

in Geneva.

This crusade reached its denouement in mid-October

when the Board of Governors of the ARC, apparently embarrassed by Healy’s

commitment to principle during a time of dire emergency, forced her resignation.

So ended a noble quest to have a profound and historic wrong redressed.

The policy of the IRC would not be so callous and

unreasonable if it failed so completely to recognize the invaluable work

carried out by the Israeli organization, both at home and abroad. From

the genocidal massacres of Rwanda to earthquake disasters in Turkey and

Armenia to famine emergencies in Ethiopia and Eritrea, the MDA has been

a full contributor to international relief efforts without being once

accorded the international recognition or status it deserves. Notwithstanding

even this, it is well known that the MDA does not discriminate between

Arabs and Jews or between Palestinians and Israelis. Its simple credo

– the protection and rescue of human life, is one that exists in concert

with that of the International Red Cross and yet apparently finds no sympathetic

ear within the IRC bureaucracy.

One does have to wonder how such a deep historic injustice has been able

to stand with little obvious challenge for so many decades. Not that we

need to look far for answers. The response to the American boycott by

French Red Cross President Marc Gentilli was instructive. In addition

to calling on the Palestine Red Crescent Society to immediately apply

for membership to the international body, before Palestine even becomes

a state, he referred to Healy’s campaign “as a disgusting maneuver

to coerce the IRC to accept the Red Star of David as a third symbol of

the organization.” Gentilli’s remarks, of course, leave little doubt

of the repugnance in which he holds that symbol itself.

The failure of the International Red Cross

to accord the MDA recognition would be shocking if it could be regarded

as an isolated incident. But sadly it fits in squarely with intolerance

in other such “universal” human undertakings such as sport,

music and scholarship where the Jewish state regularly suffers exclusion

and discrimination. We can only hope that Healy’s valiant efforts will

at least shame the leaders of the ARC into corrective action. But in the

meantime, for those who care about the reputation of humanitarian causes,

the consuming irony remains that, despite Healy’s courage and pertinacity,

the one organization so strongly associated in the public imagination

with blood drives and life-saving, has placed itself in the vanguard of

a movement that views one people’s blood as in someway less pure than


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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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