While it has been known for some time that President Shimon Peres would be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal during his upcoming trip to Washington, it seems that it won’t be the only award he will bring back home.
The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, named after the late California congressman and Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos, announced this month that Peres has been selected to receive the 2014 Lantos Human Rights Prize in recognition of his unwavering dedication to the profound values of democracy and human rights, as well as his pursuit of peace, justice and reconciliation in the Middle East.
The award ceremony is scheduled to take in place in Washington on Thursday, June 26.
Previous recipients of the Lantos Prize include former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Dalai Lama, Elie Wiesel, humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina and civil rights activists Chen Guangcheng.
“The nominating committee’s decision to honor President Peres with this award was inspired by Shimon Peres’s over 60 years of extraordinary leadership as a builder of his nation, as a global statesman and as a tireless and inspired advocate for peace and justice in the Middle East.
President Peres stands out as a leader whose passion for his country and his people is equaled by his commitment to the cause of peace for all people of the region,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, the foundation’s president.
Tom Lantos, who died in 2008, served fourteen terms in the House of Representatives as a committed Democrat, and was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress.
Born and raised in Budapest, he was sent to a labor camp following the Nazi invasion of his home city in March, 1944. He managed to escape, but was then recaptured.
His spirit unbroken, he escaped again, returned to Budapest and joined the resistance movement.
He lived with an aunt in one of the safe houses secured by Raoul Wallenberg, but was able to obtain the uniform of a military cadet.
Dressed in the uniform, Lantos, with his blue eyes and blonde hair, could move around freely, and secretly delivered food and medicine to Jews in hiding. He arrived at the United States on a Hillel scholarship and earned a PhD in economics at the University of California, Berkeley.
Before going into politics, he was a professor of economics, a business consultant and a foreign-policy commentator on television. He was elected to California’s Congressional District 11 in 1980 and remained in Congress until a month before his death.
He founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1983, and was known to be such a strong supporter of Israel that he was dubbed as “the Hungarian-American guardian” of Israel’s interests in Congress.
The Lantos Foundation established the Lantos Human Rights Prize in 2009 to honor his memory and to honor and bring to public attention heroes of the humanrights movement.
Peres and Lantos knew each other personally, corresponded with each other and met in both Israel and the US.
But the prize that Peres wants most is the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.
He has raised the Pollard issue with a series of American presidents, including President Barack Obama, and intends to do so again when they meet at the White House on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Peres is scheduled to meet on Sunday with Pollard’s wife Esther and with MKs Nachman Shai (Labor) and Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), who head the Knesset Caucus to free Jonathan Pollard.