Red Cross double cross
By former secretary of state Lawrence S. Eagleburger,
29 October 2001
Dr. Bernadine Healy’s resignation as president of the American Red Cross is a
tragedy. This remarkable woman has, in less than two years, forced major
reforms on a reluctant governing body and shown superb crisis management
skills in the aftermath of the terrible events of Sept. 11.
But this is not all she should be remembered for. Healy, shortly after she took
office, discovered that the American Red Cross had acquiesced for decades in
the policy of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to
oppose accepting Magen David Adom as a legitimate emblem of the Israeli
equivalent of the Red Cross.
She rightly saw this as, at best, turning a blind eye on a moral wrong; in
an act of great moral courage, she set about to put things right. She spoke
against the federation’s anti-Israeli stance in Geneva, the home of the
federation, and stirred up a hornet’s nest of denials of wrongdoing, complaints
against her lack of diplomatic finesse and charges that her methods just
“weren’t done” in Geneva.
When it became obvious that the federation (and most of its member states)
were not going to change their ways, Healy settled in for a long and sometimes
nasty battle. She made it clear to the federation and her own board that the
American Red Cross was no longer prepared to accept in silence a policy that
was inimical to our deepest held values and that put the lie to the federation’s
claims of universality.
As a part of Healy’s preparations for a strategic approach to the fight to force
the federation to forswear its discriminatory policy against Israel, she asked me
to accept appointment as ambassador at large (a high sounding but unpaid and
powerless position), and to advise her when she felt the need for advice.
I accepted, went several times to Geneva on her behalf and saw at
firsthand the conspiracy of silence and obfuscation deployed against the
American Red Cross’s efforts to at least get the issue thoroughly aired before
members of the federation and the public.
I suggested to Healy that withholding dues to the federation was a useful way
to force the federation to take the American Red Cross’s demands seriously;
Healy agreed, and the funds were withheld, with the approval of the board.
At the time, I warned Healy that support for this aggressive policy would
begin to diminish over time as the weak of heart, and those who really did not
care much if the discrimination against Israel continued, listened to the
blandishments of the federation’s bureaucrats and politicians, who would argue
that a hard-line American approach would never accomplish its objective, while
compromise and goodwill could eventually accomplish much.
I recently sent Healy a memorandum that laid out the issues as I saw them:
“The refusal of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent
to reverse its long-standing opposition to accepting Magen David Adom as a
legitimate emblem of the Israeli Red Cross equivalent is, and has been from the
inception of this exclusionary policy, immoral. As such it has no place in an
organization which purports to be philanthropic in its purposes, and caring for
the least of us in its practices.
“That the exclusion of Magen David Adom has continued for decades without
strong objection from the American Red Cross has raised legitimate questions
about our commitment to the fundamentals of the Red Cross movement, and to
the principles that guide American foreign policy. It is for those reasons that I
recommended that the American Red Cross withhold its dues from the
Federation. We have no business supporting an immoral policy that looks and
smells too much like the infamous policies of the 1930’s and 1940’s. . . .
“As certain as night follows day we can expect that bureaucrats from the
Federation will do all they can to persuade leading Americans to force President
Healy . . . to return to discredited policies.
“They must not succeed! At a time when the United States and the civilized
world are at war with extremism, it would be an inexcusable mistake for a
leading humanitarian organization like the American Red Cross to succumb to
political pressure and drop its principled opposition to policies of exclusion and
But “they” have succeeded. Last week Healy was forced out of office by a
behind-closed-doors vote of the American Red Cross’s Board of Governors —
not because of anything relating to the Sept. 11 tragedy but because she dared
to try to right a wrong — the wrong of denying a sovereign nation equality
because of its ethnicity.
The weak and easily persuaded had indeed succumbed to the
blandishments of the sophisticated federation apologists who are so adept at
making a wolf look like a sheep. Before long the American Red Cross, under its
new and surely more “moderate” leadership, will return to paying its dues and
“cooling it” on the issue of granting Magen David Adom the equality justice
Those of us who, like Healy, believe that the American Red Cross must
represent the best of our nation have lost not just a battle but a war.