According to this morning’s news, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent had admitted the Israeli Magen David Adom and Palestinian Red Crescent Society as full members, following the final passage of a text allowing the new “red crystal” symbol. The red crystal looks to me like a red Renault logo, but I guess at least it doesn’t have much religious significance for anybody.
Al-Jazeera is reporting that Tunisia and Pakistan tried to get an amendment passed identifying East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights as under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Red Crescent. According to Israel’s Y-Net, the amendment failed 72 to 191 and the vote for admission was ultimately 54 against to 237 for.
This should put an end to one of the lamest episodes in the history of semiotics.
Insistence by early Red Cross societies that the cross was merely a variation on the Swiss flag, and had no religious significance, went over poorly with Islamic states in the first half of the 20th century. Finally, in order to get the ICRC running at all, they had to accept three protected symbols. (The third was the Red Lion used by Iran before the Islamic revolution in 1979.) This should have been a warning that the meaning of symbols is not something under the control of a small group of Swiss gentlemen, no matter how often they insist on it.
The problem is that if you allow three symbols, why not four, or five, or any number? India and the Soviet Union expressed objections to the Red Cross and Crescent on precisely religious grounds. Although they backed down in the end, Israel did not. The ICRC tried to draw the line at three, and to be firm about it, but this worked about as well as it ever does. I’ve never thought it likely that the ICRC suffered from any particular anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli bias, simply the stubbornness of a bunch of guys atop a slow moving bureaucracy who fail to understand that meaning is not something that can be dictatorially assigned.
This should serve as a warning to those who imagine things only mean what they say they mean.