Powell Affirms That Red Cross Is Allowing Israel to Take Part
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has certified that the Israeli relief agency, the Red Shield of David, is fully taking part in the activities of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, despite a standoff over the agency’s emblem.
The secretary’s decision, which was included without comment in the Federal Register last week, allows the government to release about $11 million in aid to the Geneva-based movement, which includes the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The United States gives the organizations a total of $160 million a year.
The State Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, said today that the Israeli agency was not being hindered by its lack of full recognition by the Geneva organizations. But he acknowledged that Mr. Powell was continuing to prod members to reach an accommodation with the Red Shield of David, known in Hebrew as the Magen David Adom.
”It is an ongoing issue that we continue to press,” Mr. Boucher said.
Congress last year required the State Department certification as part of a drive to win full representation and voting rights for the Israeli agency, which is locked in a dispute over whether it may operate under an emblem that includes a red six-pointed Star of David.
For years the Movement has rejected that change, citing the conventions under which the international relief organizations were established, which authorize the use only of a cross and a crescent.
Representative Eliot L. Engel, a New York Democrat, criticized Mr. Powell for a ”horrendous” decision. Mr. Engel, who has long supported using American payments as leverage in the dispute, said the Israeli agency was the victim of a discriminatory campaign orchestrated by Arab nations.
”If the U.S. doesn’t push on this, nothing is going to get done,” he said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross helps victims of war and international conflicts, while the federation focuses on providing relief to victims of both natural and man-made disasters.
The Red Shield of David society has been a pillar of Israel’s emergency health, blood and disaster services for nearly 40 years. It has worked behind the scenes for years with the international committee, some of whose members are at odds with Israel.
The agency’s desire to work under a Star of David has met firm opposition from Arab countries in particular. Supporters counter that the cross — a version of the one on the Swiss flag — and the crescent have symbolic importance for Christians and Muslims, and they say the Jewish faith should not be excluded.
The American Red Cross entered the fray several years ago with a decision to suspend $4.5 million in annual payments to the federation until the Red Shield of David was given full membership status, including the right to take part in strategy sessions and allocate resources.
Bernadine Healy, the former president of the Red Cross, made the issue a rallying point; her persistence upset some members of the board and ultimately contributed to her being forced out.
Devorah Goldburg, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said today that her organization was currently withholding $20 million in payments to maintain the federation’s headquarters.
Ms. Goldburg said there were positive signs that the International Committee of the Red Cross was making progress toward incorporating the Israeli agency.
Last month, the international committee and the Red Shield of David signed the first cooperation agreement between the two organizations. The agreement will lead to international committee support for the Israeli agency in emergency medical preparation, disaster management and tracing of missing persons.
Amanda Williamson, a spokeswoman for the international committee in Washington, said her organization was determined to find a solution acceptable to all sides. One proposal under discussion is to allow the Israeli agency to use a new emblem in the shape of a diamond, she said. An effort to convene another Geneva convention to rewrite the rules fell apart under renewed Middle East violence in 2000, she said.
”We strenously seek a solution which would allow Magen David Adom to be a full member,” Ms. Williamson said.