Irving Kristol once pointed out that one of the virtues of the Organization of American States is that it "is a kind of mini-United Nations where we can be voted down in only three languages, thereby saving translators' fees." At the United Nations, we get denounced in six languages and shell out a disproportionate share for translators' fees, as well as for everything else.
Happily, however, the abuse of American largess and long-sufferance in international bodies has its limits. One person to draw the line is Dr. Bernadine Healy.
Healy, former head of the National Institutes of Health and now president of the American Red Cross, made a simple plea for decency and justice last November at an unlikely place: a meeting in Geneva of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
She pointed out that the federation is pledged to universality, and indeed is composed of 176 member societies from every corner of the earth. One exception: Israel. Israel's Red Cross--the Magen David Adom--is denied admission. It is relegated to observer status.
Here is a body that grants full and honored membership to everyone, including such benefactors of humanity as North Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq. But it deliberately excludes Israel's MDA which, for example, sent emergency workers to our bombed-out embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Why? The excuse is the MDA's symbol: Israel's society uses not a red cross or (as do Muslim societies) a red crescent, but a red Shield (or Star) of David. To admit the Israeli society, says the federation (and its associate body, the International Committee of the Red Cross), would lead to a proliferation of other symbols.
What nonsense. First of all, the red cross was not intended at its founding to be a religious symbol at all. It was drawn from the Swiss flag, as a symbol of neutrality and as homage to its Swiss founders. In deference to the sensibility of Turkey and Egypt and other Islamic countries, Muslims were permitted to substitute the red crescent. There was no great concern about proliferation of symbols then. Nor when Iran was granted permission to use the lion and sun.
Why not then the Shield of David? The reasons are obvious, crass and political. The Arab states don't want it and the rest of the world is too craven to cross them. Excluding the MDA is part of their larger campaign to ostracize Israel worldwide.
Isn't there supposed to be a peace process? Aren't these barriers of prejudice and exclusion supposed to be set aside as Israel makes painful sacrifices in the name of peace? Dream on. Behind the happy handshakes and soothing speeches, the Arab states continue their relentless campaign against Israel in every international body they can.
Israel, for example, is the only U.N. member nation that cannot sit on the Security Council. It is the only nation that belongs to no regional (geographical) grouping at the United Nations. Asia won't have it. Africa won't have it. Europe won't have it. So, Israel dwells alone.
Healy can't do anything about that. But she is trying to do something about the outrageous exclusion of Israel from the community of Red Cross federations. And she has met with the usual reaction: hostility and anger from a cozy club not accustomed to having its mendacity and cynicism challenged. Particularly upset was Cornelio Sommaruga, then president of the ICRC. In a private meeting after her speech, and in the presence of several witnesses, he said to Healy: "If we're going to have the Shield of David, why would we not have to accept the swastika?"
Given this kind of reaction, what can the American Red Cross do? First, symbolism: Leave the federation as a member and take up observer status in solidarity with Israel. If a legitimate and humane society that the United States has recognized as a sister Red Cross is to be given only observer status, our place is with the wronged, not with the hypocrites.
Second, money. They take our money; they scorn our principles. Fine. Withhold the $5 million annual dues we give the federation for overhead. And withhold our contribution to the ICRC for its headquarters in Geneva. This is not disaster relief; this is maintenance--high maintenance--for the Geneva bureaucrats who run these outfits. A bit of penury might encourage them to ponder the difference between the Star of David and the swastika.