U.S. Red Cross continues to withhold dues

Clash with world society over Israeli group


GENEVA - The top American Red Cross official told the national societies at a meeting here yesterday that the U.S. chapter would continue to withhold its dues until a way was found to admit the Israeli counterpart, Magen David Adom.

David McLaughlin, chairman of the American Red Cross, reiterated the position, which had been called into question when it was announced that Bernadine Healy, who had been the most vocal advocate of recognizing the Israeli group, was stepping down as U.S. leader.

Most of the opposition has come from Arab members, but delegates played down any political motives in what is supposed to be a neutral organization; Arab representatives have refused to accept the group's Star of David symbol.

The U.S. society has withheld $5 million in dues for each of the past two years, which has strained relations with the Geneva-based International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The amount is about 25 percent of the administrative budget, causing some layoffs and other retrenchment at headquarters. The Americans continue to contribute to international disaster relief.

McLaughlin said the American Red Cross position was unchanged.

"We do not plan to pay the dues next year unless the MDA and the American Red Cross see enough progress," he said in an interview. "We believe strongly in the principle of universality and that any national association that respects the movement's principles should be admitted, and that includes the MDA."

He made his comments after the unanimous admission of the Red Cross societies of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Moldova, which agreed to display either the red cross or red crescent emblems approved by the Red Cross movement.

The sticking point with Magen David Agom is that it wants to continue using its red Star of David emblem, which has led to a debate in the movement over whether such alternative symbols hamper recognition of the international group in disaster areas.

The federation's insistence that the matter can be solved only through a diplomatic conference is disputed by the Americans. Switzerland, which convenes the routine conference here, postponed the gathering last year on the ground that the situation in the Middle East was too unsettled.

In addition to Israel, the membership of other countries, including Eritrea and Kazakstan, that also want their own variations on the symbol is to be reviewed at the international conferences, which are held every two years to set international priorities.

When Healy stepped down, there were reports of differences over the policy among American Red Cross board members. But McLaughlin said that while there had been no vote, there was general agreement that the body would stick to its position.

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