Peres bestows on Obama the Medal of Distinction

Obama given Israel's highest honor at state dinner; Peres praises him for "tireless work to make Israel strong, peace possible."

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March 21, 2013 20:57
3 minute read.
President Shimon Peres presents Medal of Distinction to US President Barack Obama

peres obama 370. (photo credit: Courtesy Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

 
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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 States.

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 community.

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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 daughters.

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.

Peres prefaced 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 president.

Peres also expressed confidence that Obama would do whatever was necessary to free the world’s horizons from the Iranian threat.

He told Obama that he shared his vision for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that he believed that peace was attainable.

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.

Dwelling on the Passover story, he drew parallels between the struggle of the ancient Israelites and that of African-Americans in moving from “slavery to salvation.”

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 died.

The seating arrangements for the evening were interesting.

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 Yuli Edelstein.

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.

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