In the business of presidential medals, reciprocity is the name of the game.
President Shimon Peres will honor US President Barack Obama with Israel’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Distinction, just as Obama conferred the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award, on Peres at a presidential dinner in Washington in June.
Peres will present the medal to Obama next month at a state dinner in Jerusalem to be attended by senior Israeli public figures and representatives of the US administration.
It was more or less on the cards that, if and when Obama visited the country during his second term, Israel would find a way of showing its appreciation for his contribution to the Jewish state’s national security. This sentiment will be emphasized in the citation accompanying the medal.
Peres frequently notes Obama’s “unique and significant contribution to strengthening the State of Israel and the security of its citizens.” He did so on Sunday at his meeting with US senators and congressmen and last week said something similar at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations gathering in Jerusalem.
In fact no one sings Obama’s praises louder and with greater frequency than Peres.
Only a few days after receiving his own medal from Obama last year, Peres awarded the Medal of Distinction to former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger at the opening in Jerusalem of the President’s Conference, which is traditionally held in June.
The president met on Monday with his advisory committee to discuss this year’s awards, and it was unanimous in recommending Obama.
The reasons for the choice were outlined in an official statement issued by the president’s spokesperson’s department.
“Barack Obama is a true friend of the State of Israel, and has been since the beginning of his public life. As president of the United States of America, he has stood with Israel in times of crisis.
During his time as president, he has made a unique contribution to the security of the State of Israel, both through further strengthening of the strategic cooperation between the two countries and through the joint development of technology to defend Israel against rockets and terrorism.”
The Presidential Medal of Distinction, which came into being at Peres’s initiative, was awarded for the first time last year. Among the people on the advisory committee is Israel’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon, who in addition to his former role, is one of Peres’s lifelong friends, and, like the president, is a devoted disciple of David Ben-Gurion.
The Presidential Medal of Distinction is awarded to individuals and organizations that have made unique and outstanding contributions toward tikkun olam, a concept in Jewish tradition that embodies the idea of improving the world, as well as efforts for bettering Israeli society and the State of Israel’s image around the world by setting examples of initiative, innovation, creativity and vision.
In addition to Kissinger, the recipients of the 2012 award were Zubin Mehta, musical director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; Uri Slonim, who worked with the organization Variety to improve the lives of children with special needs; human rights activist Judy Feld Carr; Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and The Rashi Foundation.
Last year when Peres received the Medal of Freedom, there were many voices raised in Israel and the United States urging him to decline it until such time as convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who has spent more than quarter of a century in an American prison, is released.
After Peres accepted the medal, there were those who urged him to give it back for the same reason. Now advocates for Pollard are protesting the awarding of a medal to Obama at a time when Pollard’s period of incarceration is approaching 10,000 days.