Reporting from Washington -- Israeli President Shimon Peres will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom this spring, President Obama announced at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington.
“Shimon once described the story of the Jewish people by saying it proved that, ‘slings, arrows and gas chambers can annihilate man, but cannot destroy human values, dignity and freedom,’” Obama said as he announced the award. “He has lived those values. He has taught us to ask more of ourselves and to empathize more with our fellow human beings.”
Obama spoke privately with Peres after the main conference session and congratulated him on the award. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is America’s highest civilian honor.
Delegates to the conference, who had an otherwise mixed reaction to Obama’s speech, greeted the announcement with applause.
“It’s extremely well-deserved, the man has dedicated his life to peace,” said Milton Salzer, a first-time delegate from Illinois. “His whole life he’s had the message, peace is the first alternative, war is the last.”
“He’s done a lot for the relationship between Israel and America,” said Jeffrey Freimark, a delegate from Florida. “There’s a bit of a political ploy to it, but nonetheless it’s good solid recognition of someone who’s every much deserving.”
The Israeli head of state spoke ahead of Obama at the conference, after being greeted onto the stage by a choir of children. Peres expressed hope that the younger generations in Israel’s Arab neighbors will embrace democracy, while emphasizing Israel’s need to defend itself against Iran.