Defeated pro-Israel President of American Red Cross Quits

Nathan Guttman
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Nathan Guttman

While the terrorist attacks of September 11 have overshadowed a dispute in the American Red Cross, they have not defused it. Bernadine Healy resigned last week as president of the organization and her departure is certain to have repercussions for Israel and its Red Cross equivalent, Magen David Adom.

The dispute centered on membership for Magen David Adom in the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies - which has been blocked for 50 years. Healy was an outspoken advocate of its inclusion but her efforts were met by a wall of opposition from Arab states and other countries whose emergency medical teams belong to the Red Cross federation. Today, Afghanistan's medical organization has full membership in the federation whereas Magen David Adom is excluded.

Healy's resignation will seriously damage efforts by Israeli and American officials who have lobbied for Magen David Adom's inclusion in the international Red Cross organization. As President of the American Red Cross, Healy sponsored a policy of not transferring its dues to the international federation as long as the boycott on Magen David Adom continued. "You can't belong to a country club which discriminates against blacks or Jews," she declared.

Her policy of withholding funds won approval from Congress and prominent figures joined the crusade in support of Magen David Adom, including Senator Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

However, despite American pressure, members of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva refused to authorize Magen David Adom's inclusion. The ostensible cause of the boycott is symbols - Magen David's symbol, the red star of David, is not one of the federation's two approved signs, the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

Veteran U.S. diplomat Lawrence Eagleburger, who was a special ambassador for the American Red Cross, says Healy's inability to secure Magen David Adom's inclusion in the federation was mainly behind her resignation. Writing in The Washington Post, Eagleburger said "those of us, like Healy, who believe the American Red Cross ought to represent the best of the nation have lost the battle, but not the entire war." The former secretary of state called on the United States to continue lobbying for Magen David Adom.

Meantime, the international federation is hoping for a compromise if Magen David Adom would use a non-religious and non-national symbol. Denis McClean, a spokesman for the federation of the Red Cross, wrote recently that its members are "preparing to adopt an additional emblem, with no religious or nationalist connotations to stand alongside the Red Cross and Red Crescent."