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Jewish World Review Nov. 5, 2001 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

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The Price of Principle -- FOR decades, one of the most galling instances of anti-Israel prejudice in world forums was the refusal of the International Committee of the Red Cross to recognize Israel's Magen David Adom - "the Red Star of David" - as a member.

Israel was told repeatedly that if it wanted to be part of the International Red Cross, it must adopt a red cross or, alternatively, a red crescent, the symbol used in Muslim countries. The group's refusal to give a Jewish symbol equality with those of Christians and Muslims was an outrageous example of anti-Semitism.

Israel's battle to win the Magen David Adom membership in the ICRC is a symbolic, yet significant aspect of the ongoing efforts of many Arab and Third World nations to delegitimize the Jewish state to maintain it as a pariah in the international community.

Unfortunately, this stigmatizing of Israel within the ICRC has not been opposed by European membership groups. And, as with other anti-Israel campaigns within the United Nations, the exclusion of Israel would not be possible without the acquiescence, if not active support, of key western European nations.

Nor is this the only time in its history that the Red Cross has disappointed the Jewish people. The disheartening silence of the ICRC about the Holocaust and its disinterest in aiding those Jews in peril is a black chapter in the history of the organization and embittered many survivors of the Shoah.

In the decades since the birth of Israel, little progress was made towards the admission of Magen David Adom until Dr. Bernadine Healy took over as president of the American Red Cross two years ago. Though as a result of American protests, Israel was eventually given an enhanced status as an observer within the ICRC, little headway was made in efforts to persuade the majority of members to approve Israel's membership.

At that point, Healy put the organization on notice that the American Red Cross would deny any further dues payments to the international body until it ended its discrimination against Israel and righted this wrong.

This earned Healy much criticism from within the Red Cross - criticism that culminated in her forced resignation last week. Healy stated that her stand on Israel was one of the reasons she was pushed out of her position by her board of governors.

Though critics countered that her demise was due to arrogance and disputes over the sums raised by the organization after Sept. 11, sources within the American Red Cross have said that the Israel issue was the key to her resignation and was precipitated by board moves to reverse her decision on withholding dues from the ICRC.

Further evidence has been brought forward by Lawrence Eagleburger, the former U.S. Secretary of State, who served as the American Red Cross' ambassador at large to the international body. Eagleburger stated in an article published this week by The Washington Post that it was Healy's stand on Israel - and that alone - which led to her resignation. In his words, "the weak and easily persuaded succumbed to the blandishments of the sophisticated [ICRC] apologists who are so adept at making a wolf look like a sheep."

Eagleburger predicts that in the absence of Healy, "before long the American Red Cross, under its new and surely more 'moderate' leadership, will return to paying its dues and 'cooling it' on the issue of granting Magen David Adom the equality justice demands."

I hope Eagleburger is wrong about the American Red Cross, a group that is essential to rescue and recovery efforts in the wake of the Sept. 11 disasters, as well as other domestic calamities. But it will be up to Healy's successor to continue her strong stand on Israel.

Friends of Israel have been heartened by the stands of the American Red Cross during Healy's tenure, winning the group new friends in the Jewish community despite a troubled history. If it continues to withhold its dues to the international body until Magen David Adom is allowed to join, my admiration of the American Red Cross will continue undiminished.

But whatever her successor decides, we should salute Dr. Healy's courage. At a time when so many have abandoned principle and profited by letting anti-Israel slanders go unanswered, Healy did the right thing, even if she had to pay a price for it.

Her righteous conduct deserves our praise and gratitude.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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