The Shame of the (Red) Cross

By: Jonathan Feldstein

There are reports circulating Israel of high-level talks involving negotiations to release more of the hostages brutally kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on October 7, and held captive in Gaza since. Reports of the hostages’ conditions from the 100+ who have been released are horrifying. They have suffered physical and psychological torture, starvation, held in underground cages in complete darkness, and suffered violent sexual assaults including gang raping women. Speculation is that many are dead, as some of the hostages’ bodies have been found, littered across Gaza as if trash rather than human beings.

When Israel launched its military operation, it had two goals: to eradicate Hamas and remove it and its leaders from any ability to ever control Gaza and its population or threaten Israel, and to free ALL the hostages. Over the course of a week last month, Israelis were glued to the TV every night as Hamas paraded out more hostages, mostly women and children, under the voyeurism of the world media. But some 130 hostages remain in captivity: Arab and Jewish Israelis, and non-Jews of other nationalities. Still, many of the hostages are women and children, one of whom is 10 months old, doesn’t even know his name, and who has spent nearly a third of his life in captivity.

While Israelis celebrated the return of all the hostages, we were impacted by the psychological warfare that Hamas inflicted. Manipulating the hostages until the last moment, armed and masked terrorists “escorted” the hostages, instructing them to wave for the camera.

The terrorists handed off the hostages to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as if batons in a relay race, a scene rehearsed night after night. Israelis who watched the spectacle understood that Hamas was trying to appear humanitarian, and that the Red Cross was inept, playing the role of useful idiot or complicit partner to Hamas’ evil. They did nothing until that point to see or assess the well-being of all the hostages, not providing needed medical care, or anything else that is not only their mandate but their responsibility.

The ICRC’s mission is to “alleviate human suffering, protect life and health, and uphold human dignity,” especially during armed conflicts and other emergencies. It has an annual budget of $2.4 billion. By their own measure of fulfilling its own mission, they have been nothing but an expensive abject failure relating to the hostages.

Early on I realized that the Red Cross was serving as nothing more than a glorified Uber service. Yet there was one horrific difference. The Red Cross, which is supposed to protect the welfare of hostages and others, provided vehicles with clear windows, not remotely attempting to provide any privacy or dignity for the hostages or their well-being. It’s as if they were flaunting their prime-time shuttling of hostages to get maximal world attention, and take credit, more than doing their job.

It’s not the first time that the Red Cross has abandoned its responsibilities, and the Jewish people.  During the Holocaust, the Red Cross avoided taking more aggressive action on behalf of the Jews of Europe and even issued a report white washing the Nazi concentration camp Terezin. Only decades, and six million Jews later, the ICRC admitted its wrongdoing.  

Watching the hostages being released put a spotlight on the Red Cross’ inaction. Visiting Israel, the head of the ICRC balked at taking responsibility for advocating on behalf of the hostages, claiming that Hamas won’t allow it, rather than insisting Hamas comply. In another shocking instance, a Red Cross representative horrifyingly chided families of hostages to “think about the Palestinians.”

Looking at its (in)action today, it seems that the Red Cross is spending more time defending its shameful record than it is actually doing its job.

Israelis and Jews are typically not familiar with Christianity, yet many have a reflexive negative stereotype based on millennia of persecution. Historically, Jews feared Christians, their churches, and were revolted by the cross and everything it represented as a symbol of hatred to Jews.

At a time when Christian support for Israel and the Jewish people is at historically unprecedented highs, this should bother Christians deeply. I have asked Christian friends if it angers or hurts them to see the cross, the penultimate symbol of their faith, being used to promote discrimination against Jews and Israelis. It’s not a time for Christians to turn the other cheek, but to reclaim what their faith stands for as represented by the cross, and affirming that to be a Christian means to love and support the Jewish people.

As much as it is shameful that the Red Cross has failed the Jews so abysmally again, another shame of the Red Cross is that the symbol of the cross has been hijacked by the ICRC to portray a negative reflection on Christians.

As I saw the hostages being released, I saw terrorists hiding behind their masks, and the ICRC staff hiding behind the purported neutrality of their cross. I realized that while some Israelis will recognize the Red Cross’ symbol, for many it is equivalent to seeing something Christian. With many Israelis not knowing much about Christianity, or having much interaction with Christians, for many the treacherousness of the Red Cross complements the historic reality of Christians persecuting Jews.

Even though the Red Cross doesn’t represent Christianity, it is time that Christians take back their cross and what it represents. I realize that some will find it unusual, even off-putting and say it’s not my place as an Orthodox Jew to tell Christians what to think or do.  There’s surely something to that. But because I am concerned about building bridges between Jews and Christians which includes breaking down barriers and how Jews look at and perceive Christians and Christianity, I care.  Maybe it comes across with great hubris to say if I were a Christian I’d do so and so.  Nevertheless, if I were a Christian, I’d:

  • Urge Christians to flood the virtual gates of the ICRC, demanding that they do their job and stop their history of antisemitism.
  • Implore Christians speak out publicly against the Red Cross, and its history of antisemitic bias that continues to play out today.  
  • Tell Christians to stop giving to the Red Cross, anywhere, unless there is a complete and permanent overhaul of their anti-Israel bias everywhere.  
  • Beseech Christians to sign the petition demanding that the Red Cross support the well being and freedom of ALL the hostages.

I don’t know if it’s possible or has any legal basis, but if I were a Christian, I would initiate a lawsuit against the Red Cross, barring it from using the word “cross” or the symbol of a cross anywhere because of the slanderous way it reflects on Christians and Christianity.

These are big wishes for Christmas, but Jews and Christians worship a big God. If we come together, these are little things we can achieve. And if not, I am sure that $2.4 billion can be used better by defunding the whole organization.

May all the hostages be released soon.