Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

American Red Cross President Bernadine Healy Resigns amid Red Shield of David Controversy

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

American Red Cross President Bernadine Healy Resigns amid Red Shield of David Controversy

Article excerpt

American Red Cross President Bernadine Healy Resigns Amid Red Shield of David Controversy

Delinda C. Hanley is the news editor of the Washington Report

The day after the terrorist attacks on America, leaders of American Muslim organizations stood in the slow-moving block-long line outside the Red Cross building in downtown Washington, DC, waiting to donate blood with their fellow Americans. On Sept. 12 the nation still had hope that there might be survivors rescued from rubble of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon who would need blood and medical assistance. The Muslim leaders, in Washington for a scheduled Sept. 11 meeting with President George W. Bush that was postponed when disaster struck (see November Washington Report, p. 23), joined the line of blood donors to show their solidarity with the victims of the unspeakable attacks.

As TV cameras rolled, Dr. Bernadine Healy, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, came out to thank the American Muslim Political Coordination Council leaders for setting such a good example to their community. As this reporter stepped back to capture the scene on film, however, the Muslim leaders' faces suddenly fell.

Drawing closer, the reason for their perplexed and hurt expressions became apparent. Dr. Healy was asking the American Muslim leadership to support publicly right then and there Israel's full membership in the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent. For decades Israel has been lobbying for the inclusion of the Magen David Adom (Red Shield of David) emblem to join that of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Saying they would be happy to discuss the issue at a later date, the gentlemen demurred, politely suggesting that this was a time to think about America's tragedy and put aside politics. Dr. Healy continued to press them, however, until Dr. Agha Saeed firmly repeated, "Today is for America. Let's agree that today is for America."

Six weeks later, according to a Nov. 1 Washington Jewish Week article headlined "Healy Went to Mat for Israel," that single-minded dedication to Israel's cause cost the American Red Cross president her $450,000-a-year job. At an Oct. 26 press conference at American Red Cross headquarters Dr. Healy announced her retirement effective Dec. 31. Weeping, she told 200 staff, volunteers and reporters she had no choice but to resign. Red Cross board chairman David McLaughlin said the board had not pushed Healy out. Standing beside him, Healy countered, "I don't think that's true."

"Israel's exclusion from the global Red Cross organization appears to have been the pivotal factor in the resignation," the Jewish Week reported, adding that Dr. Healy told reporters "that she had been forced out of her job over policy differences with her board. In particular, she noted her unpopular decision to withhold American Red Cross dues from the International Committee of the Red Cross to protest the group's refusal to give full membership to Magen David Adom, the Israeli relief group."

Healy had taken the lead on what she described as a "controversial but principled stand" supporting Israel's request to join the International Red Cross without having to accept either a cross or a crescent as its emblem. Hoping to force the inclusion of the Israeli branch, Healy decided to withhold American Red Cross annual dues, now totaling $10 million to $12 million, as well as Americans' voluntary contributions to the International Red Cross. When the board attempted to reverse Healy's decision and pay its back dues to the ICRC, Healy refused to back down.

Dr. Healy also faced criticism on her handling of the "Liberty Fund" donations raised in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations grilled Red Cross leaders after hearing two widows testify about their difficulties in getting any financial help--despite Americans' record-breaking donations to families of the victims. …

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