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Bringing Israel Into the Family of Nations: Magen David Adom’s Long Road to Acceptance
Posted: February 8, 2007

Address by Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director
National Executive Committee Meeting
Palm Beach, FL
February 9, 2007

The wheels of progress grind slowly…sometimes way too slowly. It has taken well more than half a century, but a rank injustice has been rectified after a long, determined and righteous struggle to rectify the intolerable betrayal of the noble principles of the rescue and relief movement that is the Red Cross.

Israel has finally become a full-fledged member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. Its exclusion was specious. It was disingenuous. It was biased, discriminatory, politically driven and reflective of international hostility toward the Jewish state. It was because it used the red six-pointed star…even though Arab countries were allowed to use a red crescent….a precedent established some 70 years ago when the IRC formally accepted that emblem. Yet Israel’s efforts since the 1930s…even before the Jewish state was born…were consistently thwarted because Israel objected to using the traditional symbols of the movement to identify its medical and humanitarian workers. Today 184 societies use the Red Cross or the Red Crescent. It is hardly surprising that Israel would find it wildly inappropriate to use either one.

This victory could not and would not ever have happened without the persistence, determination and principled stand of the American Red Cross…including freezing its own contributions for six years…$45 million…to the IRC to protest the obscene isolation of Israel .

The red Star of David…the Magen David Adom…was formed in 1930, but its protective symbol of humanitarian values…the symbol of the Jewish state…was for all these years considered unacceptable because it was not recognized by the Geneva conventions on the conduct of war…which Israel itself signed in 1949. The Magen David Adom was excluded by a 22-21 vote that year because of Middle East politics…and its efforts since then failed. The Magen David Adom was using its six-pointed star emblem even before the international rules were adopted in Geneva, qualifying it to be grandfathered in under the rules. Is anyone surprised it was not?

I wonder how many of you know that the Magen David Adom has been for all these years a critical tracing partner to the American Red Cross Holocaust and war victims tracing center. A real resource of hope, the center has responded to 40,000 requests worldwide for information on the fate of those affected by the holocaust. In 1200 miraculous cases, it has reconnected loved ones. That could never have happened without the remarkable work of the Magen David Adom.

Finally, finally…the grievous wrong has been made right. It is more than about time. Arab states continued to fight the same tired old battles they have fought since 1948 to keep Israel out of international organizations. Syria, for instance, still seems to think it worth spending its rapidly dwindling political capital on trying to bar Israel’s entry into the relief agency movement. Fortunately, the rest of the world came to its senses. Israel made a major compromise, willing to accept a neutral, universal symbol if it is also adopted by the other relief agencies. And so it has been.

The first step was revising the Geneva conventions to add a new symbol…a diamond-shape called the red crystal…to its list of recognized emblems for medical and relief workers. Individual nations can add a cross, a crescent or a six-pointed star within that shape. In December, a diplomatic conference adopted this third additional protocol…allowing Magen David Adom to use its red shield of David when operating in Israel and, when operating outside of Israel, to use the red shield of David inside the newly adopted red crystal. So long as the Israeli government considers it an equitable compromise to accept the neutral symbol rather than the official inclusion of the Star of David, so must we. We can only hope the time will come in the future when the world will no longer see the Magen David Adom as so offensive that it must be contained n another symbol rather than seeing it as the beacon of commitment we know it truly is.

The Magen David Adom has always been a world-class emergency response organization with extraordinary expertise to offer during critical times of need. Now it is an equal partner with the 184 others that make up the international Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. Its time has come.

All supporters of Israel continue to be concerned about the fate of the 2 Israeli soldiers seized by Hezbollah in Lebanon – Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev – and the soldier held in Gaza, Gilad Shalit. It is important for our community and the world to know and acknowledge how hard the American Red Cross has worked with its international colleagues in attempting to find out the conditions of these soldiers and press their captors to allow a humanitarian visit. Our prayers go out to these soldiers and their families and we hope the efforts of the American Red Cross and the international committee of the Red Cross will lead to the safe return of these brave Israelis.

We are honored to have with us today Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross. Bonnie, thank you for celebrating with us…and thank you and your courageous predecessors for making this your own policy priority. Thank you for the untiring fight for recognition you have waged since Israel gained statehood in 1948. This could never have happened without your incredible friendship and sense of principle.

Please accept this gift on behalf of your grateful friends at the anti-defamation league. We hope you will hang it prominently in the headquarters of the American Red Cross. We hope it will always remind those who see it of the admiration and affection we hold for you.

We are also honored and delighted to have with us Dr. Noam Yifrach, Chairman of the Executive Committee of Magen David Adom Israel who has joined us today to bring the warm and heartfelt gratitude of Magen David Adom to the American Red Cross for its tireless and determined efforts for more than half a century to bring it into the international family of the Red Cross.

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