A red disgrace

The International Committee of the Red Cross has found a novel way of ending its 56-year boycott of the red Star of David: It will pretend it does not exist and replace it with a "neutral" red diamond shape, euphemistically named a "crystal." Within it, the red star may feature unofficially. Yet as far as the ICRC is concerned, that offensive Jewish symbol will be nonexistent. The so-called crystal is also to serve two other misfits - Eritrea and Kazakhstan, which will place their own symbols inside it. This was the face-saving solution to which Israel's emergency rescue service, Magen David Adom, and the government agreed. That would offer the MDA long-coveted ICRC affiliation, yet without the objectionable outward manifestation - at least overseas - of the MDA emblem. The problem is that this only saves the ICRC's face, allowing it to escape eminently deserved accusations of anti-Jewish bias, while doing nothing to actually remove that bias by recognizing the long-blacklisted Jewish insignia. This arrangement should be unacceptable to anyone with a residue of Jewish pride. To welcome a deal which consents to the ongoing diminishment of the venerable Jewish symbol is obsequiousness that we might have hoped would forever have disappeared from the Jewish scene. MDA and Israel would be better off without whatever benefits ICRC membership might offer than accept membership under shameful conditions. We had managed quite nicely since 1949 outside the ICRC network. MDA first applied for ICRC membership in 1949, but was instructed to operate either under a red cross or Muslim red crescent - emblems either historically or currently inimical to Jews. While Christians and Muslims were entitled to their symbols, Jews - monotheism's progenitors - were not. For a long time even the Iranian Red Lion and Sun was approved by the ICRC. The resort to a "crystal" only adds insult to injury. Though the new emblem paves the way for MDA's membership in its natural international umbrella organization, it openly perpetuates discrimination against the Jewish symbol, as if the Star of David remained tainted or second-class. Such an approach hardly befits an organization that claims universality in its devotion to providing humanitarian needs. Though perhaps less of a capitulation to Israel's Arab enemies than the previous total boycott, the current "compromise" also represents an accommodation with institutionalized anti-Semitism of the purist form. The Star of David, after all, is not the symbol of the Jewish state per se, but of the Jewish people for centuries before that state existed. The aim may be to ingratiate the ICRC with Muslim extremists. This should be unacceptable for any international organization. It particularly disturbing when even the ICRC, which relies on its ostensibly apolitical nature to maintain access to all sides of a given conflict, displays flagrant political prejudice. ICRC ex-chief Cornelio Sommaruga let the cat out of the bag in 2000, when he suggested that "if we're going to have the Shield of David, why not accept the swastika?" He was responding to then head of the American Red Cross Bernadine Healy, whose courageous stand against Israel's exclusion led to her resignation. The MDA's long record of top-notch nonsectarian medical assistance to all is apparently immaterial, as is the Palestinian Red Crescent's record of transporting terrorists and explosive charges in its ambulances. By offering us a crystal instead of our chosen symbol, the ICRC emphasizes that it hasn't changed and that Israel can expect no justice in ICRC forums. Attesting to the ICRC's political agenda was its Arab members' insistence that Israel's inclusion be predicated upon "the creation of a better atmosphere in the region" and upon the recognition of Palestinian Red Crescent exclusivity in the territories. It is hard to imagine a more wrongheaded message from an organization that professes to favor "an improved atmosphere." All that, though, is expected. Not so the MDA's and Israeli officialdom's acquiescence to a disgraceful substitution, which tells Jews not only that they are still not to be accorded equality among the nations, but also that this is should be accepted as a normal circumstance.