Friday, June 23, 2006

The Red Cross recognizes Israel (Norman Geras & Ami Isseroff)

After a delay of almost 60 years, the Red Cross has finally righted a persistent wrong. As I pointed out back in April 2005 ("Another anti-Israel Boycott"):
Many people are not aware that the Geneva-based International Red Cross and Red Crescent Federation has always refused to admit the Israeli branch, the Magen David Adom (i.e., Red Star of David) to full membership. Various pretexts, excuses, and complications have been invoked over the years, but essentially this is a matter of politically motivated exclusion - which, as far as I know, is unique to Israel. (Purely coincidence, no doubt.) The American Red Cross, to its credit, has taken the lead in pressing for an end to this indefensible situation. Dr Bernadine Healy, the former head of the American Red Cross, provided important moral leadership on this issue, despite considerable criticism and opposition.

It seems possible (though it's far from certain) that the international Federation may, at long last, do the right thing. If so, it's about time.

Opposition by Red Crescent branches from Islamic countries, including but not restricted to the Arab world, has always been the decisive factor preventing the inclusion of Israel. It is now more than a half-century since the creation of Israel, and it is time for these countries to come to terms with Israel's existence - not to endorse Israel's policies, or even necessarily to make peace with Israel (if that seems too radical), but just to accept its existence. If they can't bring themselves to do this, then at least the international Red Cross/Red Crescent organization should do so.

At long last, after a lot more conflict and argument, the international Red Cross/Red Crescent organization has admitted the Magen David Adom to full membership, having worked out a fair and sensible compromise solution to some symbolic issues involved. See the reports by Norman Geras (Normblog) and by Ami Isseroff (ZioNation) below. As Ami Isseroff sums it up:
Insistent and courageous advocacy by the American Red Cross has finally put an end to a bizarre and shameful chapter in the history of a humanitarian organization, by admitting Israel into the International Red Cross (ICRC) over the objections and obstructionism of Arab and Muslim states.
This is a rare victory for justice, sanity, and common sense ... so we ought to applaud and enjoy it.

--Jeff Weintraub
Norm Geras (Normblog)
June 23, 2006
Magen David Adom

Last year I carried a guest post by Jeff Weintraub about the exclusion of the Israeli Magen David Adom from the International Red Cross and the reasons for it. This has finally been put right:
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies yesterday admitted Magen David Adom to the organization, ending a battle that began 60 years ago, even before the state was founded. The Star of David symbol will have to appear inside a diamond-shaped logo, but MDA will be a full and equal member of the body, without having to adopt the cross or crescent symbols used by the other 184 members of the global movement. Israel - under MDA's symbol - will join the Red Cross and Red Crescent in humanitarian activities such as treating the wounded and dealing with the dead on battlefields, visiting prison camps and helping with prisoner of war exchanges. Until now, MDA was unable to use its emblem, which was not universally recognized, without the approval of the host state.

The decision made by Red Cross in its Geneva headquarters yesterday is not only symbolic, but primarily political. It was made by majority vote, over the opposition of Arab and Muslim states, which objected to MDA joining the organization and to recognizing MDA's symbol as long as the occupation continues. Their position was completely rejected.

The turning point in the Red Cross' attitude toward MDA followed Israel's decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. Francois Bellon, the organization's chairman, promised during his visit to Israel in 2004 that he would use the withdrawal to advance Israel's request to join the Red Cross. He kept his promise. Together with the Swiss Foreign Ministry, and especially the Swiss embassy in Tel Aviv, he acted resolutely to obtain the required majority for the decision.

Ami Isseroff
(ZioNation - Progressive Zionism and Israel Web Log)
June 22, 2006

Last update - 08:32 22/06/2006
Red Cross movement admits Israel, ending long exclusion
By The Associated Press

The Red Cross humanitarian movement Thursday admitted the Israeli society that had been left waiting for nearly 60 years, resolving a longstanding concern over Crusaders, crosses and crescents.
With a round of applause, the international Red Cross federation admitted Israel's Magen David Adom society simultaneously with the Palestine Red Crescent. An optional new emblem was adopted so that Israel could retain its red star of David instead of having to adopt the red cross or crescent used by the 184 other societies in the global movement.
"This is an extraordinarily exciting evening," said Bonnie McElveen Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross, which had been campaigning for years for the Israeli society's admission. "This has been going on for 58 long years. It's time. It's overdue."
Ambassador Itzhak Levanon said the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent had earlier "defeated completely" a Muslim amendment that would have challenged Israel's occupation of Arab territory since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The vote was 72 votes for the amendment and 191 against, he said.
"I am pleased very much now," said Levanon.
Then the conference passed by a 237-54 vote a resolution setting up the legal basis for Israelis' admission and making an exception to the rule that societies have to be under a sovereign state so that the Palestinians could join as well.
Magen David Adom has sought membership in the Red Cross movement since the 1930s - even before Israel became a state - but has been barred from entry because it objects to using the traditional symbols of the movement to identify its medical and humanitarian workers.
The decision early Thursday completed a complicated process that included the creation of the optional, third emblem - a blank, red-bordered square standing on one corner - that could stand alone or frame the Israeli society's red star.
The emblem - dubbed the "red crystal" - was approved over Muslim objections in a hard-fought diplomatic conference last December. But that was only the first step, and the conference was called to complete the job.
Conference organizers said their aim was to make the movement universal.
Mediators failed Wednesday to overcome opposition from Muslim countries.
The failure to reach a compromise after hours of negotiations forced delegates to reconvene for an overnight session for the votes because the opposition to Israel meant consensus approval was impossible.
The simple red cross on a white background - the reversal of colors of the Swiss flag - was adopted as the emblem of the movement when it was founded in 1863 by Swiss humanitarians trying to care for battlefield casualties who otherwise were left to suffer.
But the symbol unintentionally reminded Muslims of the Christian Crusaders, and they insisted on their own red crescent in the 19th century.
When Israel's society bid for membership was turned down in 1949, it objected to using either the cross or the crescent, and the Red Cross movement refused to admit yet another emblem.
The society and its friends have been campaigning for years to find a way out of the stalemate, and the new emblem was designed primarily to meet Israel's objections. Magen David Adom can combine it with the red star to create a new logo.
Israel's military will be able to use the crystal by itself on a white flag to protect medics and other humanitarian workers helping war casualties. But any society could combine the emblem with the cross or crescent - or both - for temporary use.