NEW YORK (Dec. 31)
Two months after Dr. Bernadine Healy resigned as head of the American Red Cross, the organization says it remains committed to supporting its Israeli counterpart, Magen David Adom.
Healy was a vocal supporter of Magen David’s request to join the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The Israeli group has been blocked by Arab and Muslim states who argue that the international body can’t recognize the red Star of David, Magen David’s symbol.
Under Healy’s guidance, the American group began withholding its dues to the international federation, which coordinates red cross societies in member countries, because of the Israeli issue.
Healy allegedly resigned because her position on the issue was at odds with that of the Red Cross. But the organization claims that’s not the case.
In a Dec. 18 editorial to The Washington Post, the chairman of the Red Cross, David McLaughlin, wrote that “it is time to set the record straight,” referring to two Post pieces that insinuated the nonprofit was backing away from Magen David.
McLaughlin noted that Healy was a “strong advocate” for including Magen David in the international federation, and that some members of the Red Cross board wanted to resume paying federation dues.
Yet McLaughlin argued that those differences were not related to Healy’s departure.
On Oct. 27, the day after Healy’s departure, the Red Cross’ full board of governors voted to continue withholding dues and passed a resolution reaffirming its support of Magen David.
Almost two weeks later, McLaughlin addressed the leadership of the Red Cross and Crescent Societies in Geneva. In a speech on the Sept. 11 terror attacks, he reiterated the American Red Cross’ intent to withhold dues from the federation.
Avi Zohar, director general of Magen David, said the circumstances surrounding Healy’s departure were not related to the Magen David issue but had more to do with personality clashes.
The 70-year-old Israeli relief organization has been restricted to “observer” status within the international federation. The American Red Cross says it has lobbied behind the scenes for Magen David’s inclusion over the past 25 years.
However, only in the last two years — under Healy — did it become the group’s top international policy issue.
“I think the new administration will continue on the same track,” Zohar said, though he conceded Healy “put the issue on a track it never was before.”
Healy was “magnificent” on the issue, he said with a smile.
A 10-page spread on Healy’s demise in the Dec. 23 New York Times Magazine described her as giving “teeth” to what had been “quiet opposition” to Magen David’s exclusion.
According to the article, two months after taking the helm in September 1999, Healy gave a forceful address to the international body in Geneva.
“She comes in and makes a speech in which she harangues the assembled membership about the inequity of the exclusion of MDA and how the American Red Cross is going to make inclusion happen now, whether we liked it or not,” an executive of the international federation was quoted as saying in the Times.
Under Healy, the American Red Cross stopped paying its membership dues to the federation. The American group’s dues account for 25 percent of the headquarters budget of the international group.
The third year of nonpayment is just beginning. After three years, the Red Cross will enter “default” status, which could lead its own membership in the international body to be revoked.
Still, according to Brian Majeuski, senior director of international policy and relations at the American Red Cross, “None of that amounts to enough for us to reverse course.”
Majeuski maintained that the American group will continue to withhold dues until Magen David is given full voting rights.
Majeuski noted, too, that the more than 1,100 Red Cross chapters across the United States stand behind the decision.
“We lose our ability to mobilize people based on the moral, humanitarian ideals of the organization” if they don’t stand up for the ideals, he said.
“We would rather go sit on the back of the bus with MDA than continue marching happily forward while MDA is excluded,” Majeuski said.
The Red Cross stance has made a big difference, Zohar said. Apart from increased public awareness of the issue, Magen David has received friendly visits by supervisors of Red Cross societies who previously ignored the institution.
Though Magen David’s international exclusion may give fodder to Israel’s enemies, the “main issue” for the Israeli group, he said, is the “recognition given by the American Red Cross for its existence. This is more important for us than to be a full member in the international movement.”
In any case, the American and Israeli organizations are working more closely than ever to address new terrorist threats. Magen David officials lecture at the American Red Cross’ new Clara Barton Center for Preparedness in Arkansas to help Americans respond to biological and chemical disasters.
Other recent programs include a training program the American group is offering Magen David to teach international humanitarian law courses to Israelis.
The American group also is equipping Magen David with a tracing system to help Holocaust survivors and immigrants in Israel find loved ones they haven’t seen since World War II.
Zohar met with Red Cross officials in New York and Washington last week to determine how to expand the groups’ collaboration.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, praised the American Red Cross’ vigilance and support for Magen David in a Dec. 18 letter to The New Yorker magazine.
Foxman was refuting a statement in The New Yorker that said the Red Cross paid no attention to the Magen David issue before Healy took over.
“We don’t know exactly why Dr. Healy was forced to resign and would tread very carefully before citing anti- Semitism as the reason,” Foxman said in his letter. “We do know that the American Red Cross has been a consistent champion for recognition of Magen David Adom by the international community, and continues to be so today.”