German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday became the first European leader to receive the Presidential Medal of Distinction.
All political figures upon whom the medal was previously conferred were Americans, beginning with former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, then President Barack Obama, and after him former president Bill Clinton.
Other personalities who distinguished themselves in different fields have also been awarded the medal, which is Israel’s highest civilian award.
The medal is given in recognition of contributions made by outstanding individuals and organizations to the betterment of the world, Israeli society, and Israel’s image.
In Merkel’s case it was conferred in recognition and appreciation of her unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and the fight against anti-Semitism and racism.
Peres has frequently described Merkel as an exceptional leader, with deep moral conviction and high ideals, and has commended her warm relations with the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
At the conferment ceremony he recalled the meetings between David Ben-Gurion and Konrad Adenauer, whom he characterized as “two giants” and said that Merkel was a worthwhile follower in Adenauer’s footsteps.
Peres delivered the conferment address in Hebrew, but switched to English when citing Merkel’s commitment to Israel. “Germany’s support for Israel’s security is part of out national ethos, our raison d’etre,” he quoted her.
With regard to the Holocaust, Peres said that under Merkel’s leadership Germany neither forgets nor denies its difficult history while building a new future. He praised Merkel’s courageous stand against all manifestations of anti-Semitism and racism.
He also commended the manner in which economic ties and scientific cooperation had expanded under Merkel’s leadership, and said that her administration had never hesitated to provide Israel with the tools necessary for its defense.
In gratitude for Merkel’s principled position, which he said is both historic and moral, Peres told her that it was with excitement and pride that he conferred on her Israel’s highest civilian award.
Merkel was welcomed to the President’s Residence by a trumpet fanfare. Peres was waiting to greet her as she exited from her car and led her into the reception hall, which they entered to a spontaneous burst of applause.
Merkel spoke of the warm friendship and the special relationship that exists between Israel and Germany, and said that the medal places on her an even greater obligation and responsibility to fight anti-Semitism and to stand up for human rights and human dignity.
She voiced her gratitude to all those who had paved the way for the special friendship between the two countries.