Israel's Admittance to Red Cross Federation Ends 'Historic Abnormality'

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - After trying to gain admittance for decades, Israel's version of the Red Cross -- Magen David Adom -- was admitted to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva early Thursday morning, ending what one Israeli official called an "historic abnormality."

The international federation passed a resolution admitting both Israel's Magen David Adom (MDA) and the Palestinians' Red Crescent Society simultaneously.

This is the end of a historic abnormality and we're very pleased that Israel is now joining," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

Israel's entrance into the movement was made possible by the International Committee of the Red Cross's adoption of a third neutral symbol -- a red diamond "crystal" -- in addition to the familiar red cross and red crescent, both of which Israel refused to use because of their religious connotations (even though those symbols have no religious meaning within the humanitarian organization).

Israel expressed its satisfaction over its admittance to the international federation but also expressed disappointed that the vote was not unanimous.

"It took too long. We were disappointed that [some Arab states] continued to support the boycott of MDA. It's clear that those voices were in the minority and the overwhelming opinion of the international community was to give us equality and representation," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

At least two Muslim states -- Pakistan and Tunisia -- attempted to insert phrases into the amendment referring to Israel's "occupation" of disputed territories, but those additions were voted down.

The vote putting the Israeli and Palestinian humanitarian societies on an equal footing with others around the world was 237-54.

The American Red Cross Society has campaigned for Israel's admission to the international movement for more than 50 years. Since 2000, the American Red Cross has withheld $45 million in dues from the international body to protest Israel's exclusion.

"We are extremely pleased that a wrong has been made right and that MDA is now an equal partner with the 184 other National Societies that comprise the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement," said Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, American Red Cross Chairman.

"MDA is a world-class emergency response organization and has a great deal of expertise to offer other National Societies and the world during critical times of need, McElveen-Hunter said in a statement.

'Historical moment'

Yonatan Yagodovsky, director of the international department of Magen David Adom, said the late-night vote is more than a victory for his organization alone.

"It's a historic moment not only for MDA but for Israel," said Yagodovsky. "It is not easy for an Israeli organization to be admitted to an international organization. Each time is a huge effort."

According to Yagodovsky, Israel began its quest to be admitted to the international Red Cross/Red Crescent federation in 1949.

The conference held in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday this week originally was scheduled to take place in 2000, but the Palestinian intifadah (uprising) made the political environment unsuitable, he said.

MDA hopes that its admittance to the international federation will give MDA a global opportunity to share its own knowledge and benefit from the expertise of others, Yagodovsky said.

For the Palestinians, the entrance of their society was somewhat of a coup. Societies usually must be backed up by a sovereign state, which the Palestinians are not.

Former president of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, Isam Said, said he was supportive but not happy.

It is a "good agreement," said Said. "I support that agreement." But it is not enough, he said.

"This is a little step on our road to liberation," Said said. Nevertheless, he said, he had no problem with Israel being admitted to the movement.

Yagodovsky said MDA also had no problem with the admittance of the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Israel knows what it is like to be excluded, he said, and wouldn't want to do that to anyone else.

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