Advertisement

The Red Cross has turned its back on Israel

Hostages abducted by Hamas gunmen are handed over by Hamas militants to the International Red Cross
Hostages abducted by Hamas gunmen are handed over by Hamas militants to the International Red Cross

The UN we know about. Many of its member states are autocratic, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that they would side against the only democracy in the Middle East. Our expectations of the self-regarding EU are also not high. But the International Committee of the Red Cross? Not only does it have a humanitarian mandate but it was set up by the Geneva conventions and is based in neutral Switzerland. Even-handed, surely.

Sadly, as with other supranational institutions and NGOs, the Red Cross appears to have something of an Israelophobia problem. This week, 84-year-old hostage Elma Avraham was released by Hamas. She was found with a fever and a dangerously low heart rate. In a scathing interview, her daughter, Tal, said the Red Cross had refused to take medicine for her mother even when it was brought to a meeting with them. This wasn’t an isolated case. Weeks after the hostages had been seized, the Red Cross had failed to contact them.

Of course, the Red Cross can only operate with the agreement of both sides. This is harder to achieve when one of the belligerents is – to put it politely – a non-state actor that cannot be punished with sanctions for non-compliance. Nonetheless, Israeli ministers have made clear that the organisation has failed to make the hostages a priority. In despair, its furious foreign minister, Eli Cohen, said: “The Red Cross has no right to exist if it does not succeed in visiting the hostages being held captive by the Hamas terror group.”

Time and again, the organisation has pointed fingers at Israel while shrugging off the gross mistreatment of its citizens. Last month, it wrote a high-handed letter expressing potential concerns over the conditions in Israeli jails. Across the border, meanwhile, hundreds of innocent babies, women, disabled people and Holocaust survivors were being held in terrible conditions by captors who did not even bother with the pretence of upholding international law.

It felt like a symbolic moment. People began to ask questions about why the Red Cross, which had sent missions to the al-Shifa Hospital, was not doing more to confront Hamas.

Added to this was the window into its soul provided by its social media accounts. Over the weekend, the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) released a damning study. In a letter to the Red Cross president Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, the group wrote: “A noticeable emphasis on the Gaza Strip is evident in the content shared by the Red Cross on its social media platforms.

“This is evident in depictions of scenes from Gaza, casualty statistics, and information about victims within Gaza. However, a significant absence exists concerning content depicting the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7 and the impact on communities in Israel near the Gaza Strip.”

The JIJ did not demand that material about Palestinian suffering be removed, only that it would be “enhanced with a more comprehensive portrayal of the situation”.

There is a history here. Although the Israeli Magen David Adom (MDA), or Red Star of David, has been operational since 1930, it was refused admission to the International Committee of the Red Cross for more than 70 years. Israel was finally allowed to join in 2006, after persistent lobbying by the wonderful president of the Jordanian National Red Crescent Society, Dr Mohammed al-Hadid. After the last few weeks, some MDA officials are talking informally about withdrawing in protest.

In 2015, the Red Cross’s president admitted that the organisation had turned a blind eye to Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust. “It failed as a humanitarian organisation,” Peter Maurer said in a speech. “It had failed to understand the uniqueness of the inhumanity by responding to the outrageous with standard procedures; it had looked on helplessly and silently, not really trying – certainly not hard enough - to live up to the principle of humanity.”

The Red Cross, he concluded, had “lost its moral compass”. His words ring loudly today.


Jake Wallis Simons is the editor of the Jewish Chronicle and author of Israelophobia: The newest version of the oldest hatred and what to do about it

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.