red cross crystal 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
On Thursday, the 192 signatories of the Geneva Conventions decided to adopt a new international symbol - the Red Crystal - alongside the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. Now it seems, for the first time, Israel's Magen David Adom (MDA) can join the 182 members of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The vote "reflects Israel's improved international standing â€¦ This is yet another achievement for Israel's diplomacy," gushed Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. MDA itself worked hard to achieve this result, which paves the way for Israel to join international rescue missions.
The new Red Crystal is a simple, bold diamond shape - called a "crystal" at the request of South Africa, since "diamond" had connotations of slavery. MDA will continue to use its current symbol, the red Star of David, in Israel, and internationally can use either an empty crystal or one with a Star of David inside it.
MDA and Israeli diplomats have been working toward such a solution for years, though it clearly does not give the symbol of the Jewish people the same status as the cross and the crescent. Those other two symbols do not have to appear within the crystal when operating internationally; the Star of David will.
Advocates of the crystal point out that the International Committee of the Red Cross was actually looking for such a symbol, even leaving aside the "problem" of Israel's membership, since the Red Cross was having trouble operating in some Muslim countries under its own symbol. Presumably, therefore, MDA will not be the only member society operating under the crystal in some hot spots; so will the Red Cross.
Despite these pragmatic considerations, we cannot help but feel deeply offended by both this international verdict and our own nation's puzzlingly obsequious embrace of it. Why could there not have been four recognized symbols: a cross, crescent, crystal and the Star of David? Or alternatively, why were the cross and crescent not - like our star will be - forced inside the crystal when operating internationally? There are no good answers to these questions. Evidently even a humanitarian movement, and one which perhaps more than any international body purportedly prides itself on neutrality and impartiality, can baldly discriminate against the Jewish state for decades, and then adopt a "solution" that continues to discriminate against the symbol of the Jewish people.
There is, furthermore, a wider problem with the new arrangement: Rather than rejecting and combatting hatred, it accommodates violence and intolerance. It is no coincidence that, after over half a century of tolerating the rejection of the Star of David, the Red Cross has itself in recent years found it increasingly difficult to operate, and began to seek cover.
Though the crystal is being portrayed as the solution to a general problem, namely places where one symbol or another is not tolerated, in practice the intolerance flows almost entirely in one direction: from the Muslim world against the Star of David and, recently, against the Red Cross too. It is almost impossible to conceive of a situation in which a Christian country, by contrast, would take violent offense to a rescue mission operating under a Red Crescent.
By bowing for so long to the utter rejection of the symbol of the Jewish people, and then devising for it a second-class status, the international community legitimized a hatred that is the antithesis of the Red Cross mission and the cause of many of the casualties it treats.
Why should a Red Cross ambulance, whose only mission is to save lives, not be able to operate in Muslim areas? Why does Israel have to beg Muslim countries for the right to openly help their peoples recover from national disasters? Most perplexingly, how has this blinding intolerance become so "normal" that such questions are not even asked?
Thursday's decision on the new symbol was, in a step almost unheard on such issues, taken by a vote rather than by consensus. Over 20 Muslim countries, led by Syria, voted no. For these countries, even hiding Israel behind a crystal was plainly too much tolerance. And in the end, it was not just Israel that attempted to hide itself from a hatred in many Islamic countries so deep it extends even to those who would save their own peoples' lives. It was the entire West as well.