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(photo credit: Courtesy Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
In June last year, President Shimon Peres took his family to Washington to bear
witness to one of the most important of the many honors that Peres has received
in his seven decades of public life: US President Barack Obama awarding him the
Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civic award in the United
Also on hand for the occasion were Dalia Rabin, the daughter of
slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin; Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren;
US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro; Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley
Fischer; the Clintons and other past and present members of the US
administration as well as some prominent members of the American Jewish
On Thursday night in Jerusalem, it was Obama’s turn to receive
Israel’s highest civic award, the Presidential Medal of Distinction, which was
first awarded last year. Some of the people who had been at the White House in
June were at the state dinner hosted by Peres for Obama at the President’s
Residence in Jerusalem, but the US president’s family had to rely on television
to see the ceremony, because he came to Israel without his wife and
There are several commonalities between the two presidents,
despite their differences in age, origin and religion. Both are Nobel Peace
Prize laureates who wish for peace but haven’t achieved it, both studied at
Harvard University and both were born in August; Peres will turn 90 on August 2
and Obama will celebrate his 52nd birthday on August 4.
his address prior to conferring the medal on Obama with the word “Bravo!”
signifying his approval of the way in which Obama had spoken to Israeli students
earlier in the day.
The award, he said, “speaks to your tireless work to
make Israel strong and to make peace possible. Your presidency has given the
closest ties between Israel and the United States a new height, a sense of
intimacy, a vision for the future.”
Diplomatic and military bonds between
the two countries have reached an unprecedented level, said the Israeli
Peres also expressed confidence that Obama would do whatever
was necessary to free the world’s horizons from the Iranian threat.
told Obama that he shared his vision for a two-state solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that he believed that peace was
Obama in response, said that this was an extraordinary honor
for him and he could not be more deeply moved, but made it clear that he was
accepting the honor not for himself but for the American people.
on the Passover story, he drew parallels between the struggle of the ancient
Israelites and that of African-Americans in moving from “slavery to
He praised Peres for his “extraordinary vitality” and said
that whenever he sees him, he asks who his doctor is.
In a toast to
Peres, he wished him “Ad mea ve’esrim” the traditional Jewish blessing that
someone should live to be 120, which was the age of Moses when he
The seating arrangements for the evening were
Peres, Obama, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Sara
Netanyahu sat at the head table. A courteous American, Obama held her chair out
for her as she took her seat.
Yesh Atid party chief Naftali Bennett and
Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich was seated with the two chief rabbis, while
Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid were seated with Shapiro,
Oren, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel’s fifth president Yitzhak Navon
and his wife, Miri, Supreme Court president Asher D. Grunis and Knesset Speaker
Before everyone sat down, Kerry spent several minutes
talking with Bennett, and as the Bayit Yehudi head turned away, the secretary of
state pulled him back to tell him something else.
Anyone who believes
that there is no chemistry between Netanyahu and Obama should have watched them
whispering to each other with big grins on their faces and laughing together
when Peres said something amusing.