Gianluca Mezzofiore – International Business Times June 14, 2012
Israeli president Shimon Peres has been awarded of the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award the US government can give to an individual, by President Barack Obama.
At a dinner in Peres’s honour, attended by former former US president Bill Clinton among others, Obama praised Peres as “the essence of Israel itself”, remarking on the strong ties between Washington and Jerusalem.
“The United States is fortunate to have many allies and partners around the world. Of course, one of our strongest allies, and one of our closest friends, is the state of Israel,” he said.
“No individual has done so much over so many years to build our alliance and bring our two nations closer as the leader we honour tonight – our friend, Shimon Peres.”
The medal was established under the Kennedy presidency in 1963 and is not meant to recognise service to the US per se. Those eligible include anyone who has contributed to “the security of national interests of the United States, or world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavours”.
One of Israel’s founding fathers, two-time prime minister Peres, 88, holds a largely ceremonial office and has become a sort of “elder wise man” of the Middle East politics.
It was not the first time the United State’s highest civilian award was given to a foreign leader. Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, Britain’s PM Margaret Thatcher, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Czech president Vaclav Havel and Germany’s prime minister Angela Merkel have all been awarded by the US.
During the ceremony, Peres reminded the guests of Israel’s fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“The Iranian people are not our enemies; it is the present leadership that became a threat,” he told Obama. “It turned Iran into a danger to world peace. It is a leadership that aims to rule the Middle East, spreading terror … they are trying to build a nuclear bomb.
“They bring darkness to a world longing for light.
“I receive this honour today on behalf of the people of Israel,” he added. “They are the true recipients of this honour. With this moving gesture, you are paying tribute to generations upon generations of Jews who dreamed of, and fought for, a state of their own. “
“You are honouring the pioneers who built homes on barren mountains, on shifting sands. Fighters who sacrificed their lives for their country. On their behalf, I thank America for days of concern, for sleepless nights, caring for our safety, for our future.”