When US leader Barack Obama visits Israel in March of this year, he will receive the prestigious Israeli Presidential Medal Of Distinction. The award was announced Monday by Israeli President Shimon Peres in recognition of President Obama’s “unique and significant contribution to strengthening the State of Israel and the security of its citizens.” The Israeli medal is similar to France’s “Legion of Honor” or the “Order of Canada.”
Although Mr. Obama toured Israel as a United States Senator, he has not visited the Jewish State since he was elected President. Critics of Obama have made much of the fact that the President didn’t stop in Israel to pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Netanyahu when he was only a short plane flight away delivering his Cairo Address to the Muslim World on June 4, 2009.
The relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama has been contentious and adversarial, with Obama making demands that angered the Israeli leader. President Obama stunned Netanyahu when the Prime Minister visited America in 2011, insisting Israel accept the borders that existed before the 1967 war as a starting point for negotiations with the Palestinians.
Not only did the Prime Minister of Israel declare that 1967 borders were “indefensible,” but he had the chutzpah to lecture the President on Israel’s defense needs, talking down to Obama like the American President was a schoolboy.
While many Israelis spoke with pride about Netanyahu’s powerful defense of his nation, Obama was outraged. The President stormed out of the meeting for a private dinner with his family and refused to pose for a photo-op with the Prime Minister. The next day, the Israel leader addressed the United States Congress, where he received more standing ovations than they gave Obama during his State of the Union address.
Prime Minister Netanyahu also managed to put aside his anger over the events of November, 2011, when French President Sarkozy was overheard on a hot mic calling Mr. Netanyahu a “liar.” Obama, who was chatting privately with Sarkozy, replied, “You’re sick of him — but I have to deal with him every day!”
Recently, both Netanyahu and Obama were re-elected and they seem to have repaired their personal relationship; at least in public. Perhaps it is not a co-incidence that the medal was awarded by a committee appointed by President Peres, who is on good terms with the American leader. Peres is known to be a member of the Israel peace movement and he strongly supports the Obama plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mr. Peres was awarded America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama on June 13, 2012 and the meeting between the two men was quite cordial. Shimon Peres will reciprocate the honor and present Israel’s Presidential Medal Of Distinction to his American counterpart during a State dinner at the President’s residence in Jerusalem in March of 2013.
The Israeli President spoke highly of Mr. Obama when he announced the award:
“Barack Obama is a true friend of the State of Israel, and has been since the beginning of his public life. As president of the United States of America, he has stood with Israel in times of crisis. During his time as president he has made a unique contribution to the security of the State of Israel, both through further strengthening the strategic cooperation between the countries and through the joint development of technology to defend against rockets and terrorism. [President Obama] is a symbol of democratic values who exemplifies the spirit of equality of opportunity in American society.”