Obama and Israel: a Medal-Worthy Record

— by Marc R. Stanley — Originally Published on JNS.org

Later this month, President Barack Obama will take his first presidential trip to Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Obama’s trip “will give me and the people of Israel the opportunity to express our appreciation for what he has done for Israel.” To show Israel’s gratitude for Obama’s support, Israeli President Shimon Peres announced that he would present Obama with Israel’s Medal of Distinction during a special ceremony in Israel.

Since taking office in 2009, Obama has made supporting Israel one of his highest priorities. From championing sanctions against Iran to providing Israel with expedited supplemental assistance for the Iron Dome, Obama has been Israel’s most important ally. Peres said when he announced the award that Obama “is a true friend of the State of Israel, and has been since the beginning of his public life” and that he has “has stood with Israel in times of crisis.”

More after the jump.
Obama has ensured that Israel’s annual aid of $3 billon remains untouched in this time of tighter budgets, and has allocated more than $11.4 billion in foreign aid over the past four years. That aid has allowed Israel to equip itself with the best and most advanced weapons available and restored the Jewish State’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) — which lapsed during President George W. Bush’s Administration.

Obama’s vocal support for Israel — as well as $275 million in funding for the Iron Dome — was crucial during November’s operation Pillar of Defense. The supplemental funding ensured that the Iron Dome system was able to protect Israeli citizens from Hamas‘ rocket attacks by intercepting 85 percent of the rockets fired towards populated areas. Iron Dome has been lauded by Israeli leaders for saving countless lives and was celebrated during this year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference.  

In addition to the Iron Dome system, Obama secured additional funding for the Arrow and David’s Sling missile systems. A total of $650 million has been allotted for these systems — double what the Bush Administration provided for Israeli missile defense. Together these systems will create a multi-layered missile defense shield capable of protecting Israel from short, medium, and long-range missiles.

By taking a number of steps to restore Israel’s QME, Obama has helped strengthen and secure the U.S.-Israel relationship. From signing the U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Act, to selling Israel bunker busting bombs, Obama has been deeply committed to expanding America’s strategic partnership with the State of Israel, as well as promoting a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Not only has Obama given military assistance to Israel, he has also taken a strong stance on the international stage in defense of Israel. He is the only American president to have a 100 percent pro-Israel voting record at the United Nations, and his speeches before the UN General Assembly have been explicitly devoted to advancing joint U.S. and Israeli interests. When it comes to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, he has been the global leader. The bills and executive orders he signed, coupled with the international sanctions movement he has spearheaded, have caused a 50 percent decline in Iran’s currency and a 40 percent decline in Iran’s oil exports and sales.

For these reasons, Israeli Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said, “History will surely record [Obama’s] immeasurable contribution to the strength of Israel, and the maintenance of the truly special relationship between our peoples.”

It has been abundantly clear throughout the Obama Administration that our president is a true friend to Israel. As Israel’s prime minister and president prepare to welcome, commend, and celebrate Obama, the American Jewish community should be echoing their sentiments and thanking the president for all of his work to support the Jewish state.

Marc R. Stanley is the chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Netanyahu Holds Preparatory Meeting for President Obama’s Visit‏


Israeli President’s Residence

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office held a preparatory meeting ahead of US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel. In addition to personnel from the PMO, representatives from the Israeli President’s Residence, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the Israel Police, the Jerusalem Municipality, Ben-Gurion International Airport and other agencies also attended the meeting. National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror said:

It is very important that the visit be marked by three points: One, that it go smoothly from start to finish. It is important for us that the Prime Minister and the President have fruitful and productive talks — this is the basis for the continuation of work over the next four years. It is important to us that the President and all those who watch the visit see the beautiful Land of Israel as much as possible given the short schedule. Cooperation between all elements — among all the Israelis, and between us and the Americans — is also vital for the success of the visit.

Visit schedule and more after the jump.
The general outline of the visit was presented:

Wednesday, 20 March 2013:

  • Welcoming ceremony at BGI Airport
  • Presentation of Iron Dome (may be moved to the end of the visit)
  • Welcoming ceremony and meeting at the President’s Residence
  • Meeting, press conference and dinner with the Prime Minister

Thursday, 21 March 2013

  • Visit the Shrine of the Book (home of the Dead Sea Scrolls) at the Israel Museum
  • Visit exhibition of innovative technology at the Israel Museum
  • Visit the Palestinian Authority

    Herzl’s grave

  • State dinner with the President

Friday, 22 March 2013

  • Wreath-laying ceremony at Herzl’s grave
  • Wreath-laying ceremony at Rabin’s grave
  • Visit Yad Vashem

Gil Sheffer, the head of the Prime Minister’s bureau, said:

Arrangements by the Israel Police, the ISA, the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office, the President’s Residence and staff at the official sites that the US President will visit are all in their final stages. We will go to the sites that the President will visit. In this context, we have already completed preparations ahead of the exhibit that will be held at the Israel Museum at which technological developments will be presented in the fields of — inter alia — renewable energy, search and rescue technology, and robotics. The exhibit will present Israel as a technological leader. National Economic Council Chairman Prof. Eugene Kandel chaired the committee that selected the items in the exhibit.

Edna Halabani, head of the Prime Minister’s Office department for international visits and liaison, said:

There is excellent cooperation with the Americans and with the various agencies: The Foreign Ministry, the President’s Residence, the ISA, the Israel Police, the Jerusalem Municipality and the various branches of the Prime Minister’s Office, including the Deputy Director General and the National Information Directorate. The cooperation is very good.

Head of the National Information Directorate, Liran Dan, said:

We are prepared for the arrival of hundreds of journalists ahead of US President Obama’s visit. Our goal is to give these hundreds of journalists the best service possible. We will set up media centers to provide information to journalists 24 hours a day. Emphasis will be given to providing information via social networks; to this end, we have launched a PMO application for smartphones. Our goal for the visit is to emphasize two things: One is the deep and abiding connection between Israel and the US. The second is that we want to utilize the international attention that will be on the State of Israel for the 48 hours of President Obama’s visit in order to stress Israel’s status as a technological leader.


Model of Ancient Jerusalem at the Israel Museum

NJDC Proud about Obama Receiving Israel’s Medal of Distinction


Obama and Peres in the Oval Office

— by Marc R. Stanley

The National Jewish Democratic Council could not be prouder that President Barack Obama will be receiving Israel’s Medal of Distinction during his upcoming visit to the Jewish state. This President has proven to be Israel’s most important advocate on the world stage — from defending Israel’s legitimacy and right to defend itself to providing the leadership to fund the Iron Dome defense system and rallying the global community against Iran’s nuclear weapons program. We are thrilled that Israeli President Shimon Peres has chosen to honor President Obama with this award.

A Tale of Two Trips

— by Elizabeth Leibowitz

Perhaps the most interesting moment in Monday’s presidential debate was one of President Obama’s best lines of the night:

…when I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn’t take donors, I didn’t attend fundraisers, I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.” He continued, saying, “I went down to the border towns of Sderot … I saw families there who showed me where missiles had come down near their children’s bedrooms, and I was reminded of … what that would mean if those were my kids, which is why, as president, we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles.

Now, let me begin by saying that I know Romney visited Yad Vashem in 2007 and traveled to Sderot in 2011. But when the details of the two men’s trips to Israel as presidential candidates are contrasted and evaluated for who was more “presidential,” only one individual fits the bill.

President Obama visited Israel during his 2008 presidential campaign and met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, President Shimon Peres, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and – unlike Governor Mitt Romney – with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. He traveled to Sderot, where he talked with families who faced the daily fear of Palestinian rocket fire. He visited Yad Vashem, where he laid a wreath on a tomb that contains ashes from Nazi extermination camps. Obama’s trip to Israel greatly affected his actions once in office, prompting him to provide record aid to Israel, restore the country’s Qualitative Military Edge, fund the Iron Dome missile defense system, and more.

Governor Romney had quite a different trip as a candidate. He did meet with Peres, Netanyahu, and various other Israeli leaders — though he opted to cancel his meeting with the Labor Party’s Shelly Yachimovich. He chose to only meet with Fayyad, selecting to return to Jerusalem on the eve of Tisha B’Av to focus on his speech as well as his $50,000-a-plate fundraiser. Standing in front of his supporters, Romney spoke broadly about his stances on the Middle East, all the while dishing out subtle jabs at the President and breaking the “politics stop at the water’s edge” protocol. The next day, he managed to stretch U.S.-Palestinian relations even further when he chalked up the difference between Israeli and Palestinian economies to “culture.” During Romney’s August 2012 trip as a candidate, there was no trip to Sderot, no visit to Yad Vashem, and no conversations with average Israelis about their hopes for the future. Instead, his trip to Israel served a political purpose.

There is only one candidate in the 2012 race whose trip to Israel was presidential and whose actions afterward were presidential-President Barack Obama.

New Year’s Greeting from Shimon Peres, Mitt Romney


Transcript of Mitt Romney’s Remarks:

   As we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur I want to wish everyone in the Jewish community a happy and healthy new year.

   The High Holy Days are a time for humility and reflection.

   They are a time for families to gather and embrace our many blessings and they offer a chance to think about how we can improve our lives in years ahead.

   The High Holy days highlight the role that faith plays in guiding our lives.

   They inspire us to become better people.

   I recently had the privilege of returning to Jerusalem for a few days, and during that trip I was reminded once again what a remarkable country has emerged in 64 short years.

   Israel is a vibrant healthy democracy where entrepreneurship is encouraged, the economy is thriving and innovation infuses nearly every aspect of society.

   Israel is among America’s best friends and closest allies in the world and I believe no one should never doubt this basic truth: A free and strong America will always stand with a free and strong Israel.

   Here at home Jews have also contributed greatly to the tapestry of our nation, public service and in the private sector.

   The Jewish community has helped build our economy, helped defend our freedoms, and helped earn our special place in history.

   We’re grateful for that immense contribution, and we look forward to an even brighter future.

   It’s Ann and my sincere wish that you have a sweet New Year.

Panetta: U.S. “Won’t Allow Iran to Develop a Nuclear Weapon. Period”


U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stressed the U.S. “rock solid commitment to the security of Israel and to the security of its citizens” during his visit to the Iron Dome battery in Israel, August 1.

— by Danielle Lehrer

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta landed in Israel to reaffirm the “close defense ties between Israel and the U.S” and to discuss efforts to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Panetta met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. According to the Defense Department, stopping Iran’s nuclear program was “square on the agenda.”

Panetta stated during his trip:

Israeli and American leaders ‘continue to work together in the effort to ensure that Iran does not reach that point of developing a nuclear weapon.’

‘What we are discussing is various contingencies and how we would respond,’ Panetta said. ‘We don’t talk about specific military plans. We continue to run a number of options in that area, but the discussions I will have in Israel [will be to determine] the threat we are confronting and to share both information and intelligence on it.’

And:

‘The United States,’ he said, ‘will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Period.’

‘I want you and the people of Israel to know a few things that have not and will not change,’ he said. ‘The United States stands firmly with Israel and we have a rock solid commitment to the security of Israel and to the security of its citizens.’

After his praise for the Obama Administration this week, Barak said:

When we say all the options are on the table, and when the Americans say all the options are on the table, we mean it, and I believe the Americans mean it.

During his trip, Panetta visited one of the U.S.-funded Iron Dome batteries that are protecting Israel from rocket attacks. The American Forces Press Service published an article today about how the Iron Dome missile defense system is an important demonstration of U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation. Click here to read it.

More photos from Panetta’s trip appear after the jump.

Sec. Clinton Meets with Peres and Other Leaders in Israel

— by Max Samis

As part of her current overseas diplomatic trip, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is currently in the State of Israel, her fourth such trip during her time in office. During her visit, Clinton is expected to discuss a wide range of topics with a number of prominent Israeli leaders.

Ilon Ben Zion of The Times of Israel reported:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton landed in Israel early Monday morning for a two-day visit following a trip to Egypt. She was accompanied by US Middle East envoy David Hale and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who represents Washington at the talks between world powers and Iran.

Clinton met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem Monday morning and was set to hold meetings with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day. She will also meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at her hotel in Jerusalem. This is Clinton’s fourth visit to Israel since taking office…

During her visit, Clinton is also expected to try to make inroads in restarting direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Clinton will likely ask the Israeli government to release Palestinians imprisoned in Israel since before the Oslo peace process, and will ask President Mahmoud Abbas to refrain from requesting observer state status from the UN.

Upon landing, Clinton paid a visit to the residence of Israel President Shimon Peres, where the two leaders held a joint press conference. Barak Ravid of Haaretz wrote:

Talking to the press, Clinton said, ‘It is a time of uncertainty but also of a big opportunity in the region. At times like these friends like us need to work together in a smart, creative and courageous way…’

Following his meeting with Clinton, Peres said that, Egypt is a key state in the region and that Israel wants to uphold the peace treaty with Egypt. ‘We respect the results of the elections in Egypt, and hope for another 30 years of peace,’ he said.

Peres added that he was convinced that there is international understanding of the danger that the Iranian regime represents to the world, and highlighted that the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran have started to work.

‘I hope that Iran will return to its rich legacy and be a country that does not threaten anyone, and no one makes threats against,’ he said.

More after the jump.
Greer Fay Cashman of The Jerusalem Post also reported:

Clinton praised Peres, saying no other individual had done so much to build the alliance between Israel and the US. ‘Few people know the inextricable link between security and peace,’ she stated.

Peres was also complimentary of Clinton, referring to her as ‘a constant friend’ who is “blowing the wind of freedom all over the world.”

Peres told Clinton that he appreciated the fact that she came to Israel immediately after Egypt because Egypt is the key country in the Middle East and it depends on Egypt and Israel to continue the march of freedom for the whole of the region.

Peres reiterated what he has frequently said, that peace between Israel and Egypt has saved the lives of thousands of Egyptians and Israelis.

You can watch the video of Clinton’s remarks here or below. You can also see photos from Clinton’s visit with Peres below. The full transcript of Clinton’s remarks can also be read here.

Clinton also paid a visit to the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, where she spoke with Ambassador Dan Shapiro. Speaking to the staff and families of the embassy and consulate, Clinton said:

But mostly I wanted to say thank you to all of you for the work that you do every single day here in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv supporting the extraordinarily important ties between the United States and Israel, working with the Palestinian Authority on so many of the issues that are critically important, assisting a huge number of Americans who visit this area, and of course, continuing our commitment as we seek to support a lasting peace. You are working at the forefront of one of our most important and challenging diplomatic efforts. Here in the Consulate General you are assisting with development and security, helping to build the infrastructure for a future Palestinian state. In the Embassy you’re sustaining one of our most important alliances, building the people-to-people connections that are so important to our relationship. And over the last year and a half, you’ve all continued to promote American interests amid the turbulence and unpredictable circumstances of the changes sweeping the region.

Looking at all of you is very reassuring. I read cables. I get reports. But I like seeing you in person. And it’s not just because you handle so many complex issues with great poise and professionalism, but it’s also frankly because this group represents the sort of collaboration across ethnicities and faiths that is so essential in the 21st century. It’s essential to move toward the goals of bringing people together, of finding common ground, and of building a future based on mutual respect and mutual interests…

So from President Obama and myself, thank you. Thank you for your exemplary service, your commitment, for representing the United   States so well. We may not always say it, but we know it, and whenever I get a chance to say it, I try to do so because I want you to hear it: We know what you’re doing and we appreciate it very, very much.

Click here to read her full remarks.

Clinton also met with Defense Secretary Ehud Barak, discussing the various security needs facing Israel and the ongoing cooperation between the two countries. Stuart Winer of The Times of Israel, along with the AP, wrote:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday saying the bonds between Israel and America are strong.

‘The Americans consistently and constantly backup Israel’s security needs,’ Barak said in the meeting.

Clinton’s remarks from her meeting with Barak can be read here.

Clinton is also expected to attend a dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this evening, followed by a press conference in Jerusalem.

Clinton is just the latest official from the Obama administration to visit Israel, following National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and ahead of the just-announced visit by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Israel’s President Shimon Peres Received Medal of Freedom

Remarks by US President Barack Obama at Presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Israeli President Shimon Peres

Good evening, everybody.  Please have a seat.  On behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House on this beautiful summer evening.

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.  And no individual has done so much over so many years to build our alliance and to bring our two nations closer as the leader that we honor tonight — our friend, Shimon Peres.  (Applause.)

Remainder of the President’s remarks follow the jump.
Among many special guests this evening we are especially grateful for the presence of Shimon’s children — Tzvia, Yoni and Chemi, and their families.  Please rise so we can give you a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

We have here someone representing a family that has given so much for peace, a voice for peace that carries on with the legacy of her father, Yitzhak Rabin — and that’s Dalia.  We are grateful to have you here.  (Applause.)  Leaders who’ve helped ensure that the United States is a partner for peace — and in particular, I’m so pleased to see Secretary Madeleine Albright, who is here this evening.  (Applause.)  And one of the great moral voices of our time and an inspiration to us all — Professor Elie Wiesel.  (Applause.)

The man, the life that we honor tonight is nothing short of extraordinary.  Shimon took on his first assignment in
Ben-Gurion’s Haganah, during the struggle for Israeli independence in 1947, when he was still in his early 20s.  He ran for President of Israel — and won — when he was 83.   (Laughter.)

By the way, I should mention that I just learned that his son-in-law is also his doctor.  And I asked for all his tips.  (Laughter.)

Shimon has been serving his nation — and strengthening the bonds between our two nations — for some 65 years, the entire life of the State of Israel.  Ben-Gurion and Meir, Begin and Rabin  —  these giants of Israel’s founding generation now belong to the ages.  But tonight, we have the rare privilege in history  —  and that’s to be in the presence of a true Founding Father.

Shimon, you have never stopped serving.  And in two months we’ll join our Israeli friends in marking another milestone  — your 89th birthday.  (Applause.)    

Now, I think Shimon would be the first to tell you that in the ups and downs of Israeli politics, he has been counted out more than once.  But in him we see the essence of Israel itself   —  an indomitable spirit that will not be denied.  He’s persevered, serving in virtually every position — in dozens of cabinets, some two dozen ministerial posts, defense minister, finance minister, foreign minister three times.  Try that, Madeleine.  (Laughter.)  And now, the 9th President of Israel.  And I think President Clinton would agree with me on this — Shimon Peres is the ultimate “Comeback Kid.”  (Laughter.)

And he’s still going  —  on Facebook, on You Tube —  (laughter)  — connecting with young people; looking to new technologies, always “facing tomorrow.”  Recently, he was asked, “What do you want your legacy to be?”  And Shimon replied, “Well, it’s too early for me to think about it.”  (Laughter.)

Shimon, you earned your place in history long ago.  And I know your work is far from done.  But tonight is another example of how it’s never too early for the rest of us to celebrate your legendary life.

Shimon teaches us to never settle for the world as it is.  We have a vision for the world as it ought to be, and we have to strive for it.  Perhaps Shimon’s spirit comes from what he calls the Jewish “dissatisfaction gene.”  (Laughter.)  “A good Jew,” he says, “can never be satisfied.”  There is a constant impulse to question, to do even better.  So, too, with nations  —  we must keep challenging ourselves, keep striving for our ideals, for the future that we know is possible.

Shimon knows the necessity of strength.  As Ben-Gurion said, “An Israel capable of defending herself, which cannot be destroyed, can bring peace nearer.”  And so he’s worked with every American President since John F. Kennedy.  That’s why I’ve worked with Prime Minister Netanyahu to ensure that the security cooperation between the United States and Israel is closer and stronger than it has ever been  —  because the security of the State of Israel is non-negotiable, and the bonds between us are unbreakable.  (Applause.)

Of course, Shimon also knows that a nation’s security depends not just on the strength of its arms, but upon the righteousness of its deeds  —  its moral compass.  He knows, as Scripture teaches, that we must not only seek peace, but we must pursue peace.  And so it has been the cause of his life  —  peace, security and dignity, for Israelis and Palestinians and all Israel’s Arab neighbors.  And even in the darkest moments, he’s never lost hope in  —  as he puts it —  “a Middle East that is not a killing field but a field of creativity and growth.”

At times, some have seen his hope and called Shimon Peres a dreamer.  And they are right.  Just look at his life.  The dream of generations, after 2,000 years, to return to Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people  —  Shimon lived it.  The dream of independence, a Jewish State of Israel  —  he helped win it.  The dream of an Israel strong enough to defend itself, by itself, against any threat, backed by an ironclad alliance with the United States of America  —  he helped build it.

The dream of making the desert bloom  —  he and his wife Sonya were part of the generation that achieved it.  The dream of the high-tech Israel we see today  —  he helped spark it.  That historic handshake on the White House lawn  —  he helped to create it.  That awful night in Tel Aviv, when he and Yitzhak sang a Song for Peace, and the grief that followed  —  he guided his people through it.  The dream of democracy in the Middle East and the hopes of a new generation, including so many young Arabs  —  he knows we must welcome it and nurture it.

So, yes, Shimon Peres — born in a shtetl in what was then Poland, who rose to become President of Israel  —  he is a dreamer.  And rightly so.  For he knows what we must never forget:  With faith in ourselves and courage in our hearts, no dream is too big, no vision is beyond our reach.

And so it falls on each of us  — to all of us  —  to keep searching, to keep striving for that future that we know is possible, for the peace our children deserve.

And so it is a high honor for me to bestow this statesman, this warrior for peace, America’s highest civilian honor  —  the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  And I’d ask you to please join me in welcoming President Peres to the presentation.  (Applause.)

(The citation is read.)

MILITARY AIDE: The President of the United States of America awards this Presidential Medal of Freedom to Shimon Peres.  An ardent advocate for Israel’s security and the cause of lasting peace, Shimon Peres has devoted his life to public service.  He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the profound role he played in Middle East peace talks that led to the Oslo Accords, and he continues to serve the Israeli people with courage and dignity.  Through his unwavering devotion to his country and the cooperation of nations, he has strengthened the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Before inviting remarks from President Peres, I’d like to conclude by inviting you all to join me in a toast, with the words that Shimon spoke when he accepted the Peace Prize in Oslo:

“From my earliest youth, I have known that while one is obliged to plan with care the stages of one’s journey, one is entitled to dream, and keep dreaming, of its destination.  A man may feel as old as his years, yet as young as his dreams.”

Shimon, to all our friends here tonight, and to our fellow citizens across America and Israel  —  may we never lose sight of our destination.  Shalom, and may we always be as young as our dreams.

L’chaim.  Cheers.

I have one last order of business to attend to.  Before I ask our recipient to come to the stage  —  while I began my remarks I was not yet sure whether one more  —  or two more guests of honor had arrived.  I think it would be entirely appropriate at this point for us also to acknowledge two people who have constantly sought to achieve peace, not only in the Middle East but all around the world  —  one of them happens to be traveling a lot these days on my behalf  —  (laughter)  — – and I am extraordinarily grateful to them.  Shimon, I know that you’re pleased to have two very dear friends to help celebrate this evening.  President Bill Clinton.  (Applause.)  And our outstanding Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, President Shimon Peres.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT PERES:  Mr. President, Mrs. Obama, it’s so hard to speak after you, my God.  (Laughter.)  You are so moving.  But thank you.  (Laughter.)

I really was profoundly moved by your decision to award me the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  To receive it is an honor.  To receive it from you, Mr. President, in the presence of my dear family, is a privilege that I shall cherish for the rest of my life.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

It is a testament to the historic friendship between our two nations.  When I was really young  —  not like now —  (laughter)   —  the founder of the State of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, called me to work with him.  For 65 years, inspired by his leadership, I tried to gather strength for my country, pursue peace for my people.  I learned that public service is a privilege that must be based on moral foundations.

I receive this honor today on behalf of the people of Israel.  They are the true recipients of this honor.  With this moving gesture, you are paying, Mr. President, tribute to generations upon generations of Jews who dreamed of, fought for a state of their own  —  a state that would give them a shelter; a state that they could really defend by themselves.

So, Mr. President, you are honoring the pioneers who built homes on bombed mountains, on shifting land; fighters who sacrificed their life for their country.  On their behalf, I thank you.  I thank America for days of concern, for sleepless nights, caring for our safety, caring for our future.

Tonight, Mr. President, you kindly invited outstanding personalities whose commitment to Israel is nothing less than heroic.  I offer them the eternal gratitude of my people.  Present here, for me is a very moving presence is Dalia Rabin, the daughter of my partner, the unforgettable Yitzhak Rabin, who gave his life for peace.

Mr. President, you have pledged a lasting friendship for Israel.  You stated that Israel’s security is sacrosanct for you. So you pledged; so you act.  So you are acting as a great leader, as a champion for peace.  Thank you again.  (Applause.)

Dear friends, Israel sincerely admires the United States for being a land of the free, a home of the brave, a nation of generosity.  A world without the United States, without the values of the United States, would have been chaotic.  Moses began his journey to freedom by demanding, “let my people go.”  The prophet Isaiah promised nations will take up swords against nations.  A biblical promise became a grand American reality, first and foremost in human annals.  

When the Liberty Bell rang in Philadelphia, it resonated throughout the world.  A tired world was surprised to witness, contrary to its experience, a great nation becoming greater by giving, not by taking; by making generosity the wisdom of policy, and freedom as its heart  —  freedom from oppression, from persecution, freedom from violence and evil, freedom from discrimination and ignorance; liberty that does not fear liberty, liberty that doesn’t interfere with the liberty of others.  You introduced a constitution based on balance, not on force.

Liberty is also the soul of the Jewish heritage.  We didn’t give up our values, even when we were facing furnaces and gas chambers.  We lived as Jews.  We died as Jews.  And we rose again as free Jewish people.  We didn’t survive merely to be a passing shadow in history, but as a new genesis, a startup nation again.
We are faced with the worst of humanity, but also experience the best of humanity.  We shouldn’t forget either of the two.  When we discovered that we were short of land and water, we realized that we had the priceless resource  —  the courageous, undefeatable human spirit.

We invested in knowledge and turned our attention to the ever-growing promise of science.  Unlike land and water, science cannot be conquered by armies or won by wars.  In fact, science can make wars unnecessary.  Science provided Israel with the unexpected economic goals  —  it enabled us to absorb millions of immigrants.  Science enabled us to build an agriculture that is ten times the normal yield.  It enables us to build an effective defense against armies ten times greater than us.  Brave soldiers and sophisticated tools brought us victory in life.

But we remain the people of the book.  Yes, my friends, Israel is the living proof that democracy means progress, science means growth, literature and knowledge means enrichment.  Israel today is an innovating, pluralistic society where Jews, Christians and Muslims live together in peace.  It is not perfect, but it is an example of what may happen in the future.

My friends, we live now in and are now witnessing the departure of one age and the arrival of a new age.  The agricultural age lasted for 10,000 years; the scientific age is still fresh.  Yet in 50 years, the scientific age has achieved more than the 10,000 years of agriculture.  This new age has brought new challenges, new dangers.  It generated a global economy but not a global government.  It gave birth to horrors of global terrorism without global control.

The danger is today concentrated in Iran.  The Iranian people are not our enemies.  It is the present leadership that became a threat.  It turned Iran into a danger to world peace.  It is a leadership that aims to rule the Middle East, spreading terror all over the world.  They are trying to build a nuclear bomb.  They bring darkness to a world longing for light.

It is our responsibility to our own people, to our friends throughout the world, to posterity, that the Iranian threat must be stopped, and it cannot be delayed.

Mr. President, you worked so hard to build a world coalition to meet this immediate threat.  You started, rightly, with economic sanctions.  You made it clear  —  rightly, again  —  that all options are on the table.  Clearly, we support you and your policy.  (Applause.)

Friends, extremists are using the conflict of the Palestinians to cover their true ambitions.  The majority of the people in the Middle East, in my judgment, are tired of war.  In many homes, families still mourn the loss of their loved one.  I believe that peace with the Palestinians is most urgent  —  urgent than ever before.  It is necessary.  It is crucial.  It is possible.  A delay may worsen its chances.

I remember that 19 years ago, on the lawn outside this house, President Clinton  —  dear, Bill  —  initiated the peace process.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Since then, the Israelis and Palestinians have come a long way together.  But still, hard work remains ahead.  Israel and the Palestinians are, in my judgment, ripe today to restart the peace process.  (Applause.)

A firm basis already exists.  A solution of two national states  —  a Jewish state  —  Israel; an Arab state  —  Palestine.  The Palestinians are our closest neighbors.  I believe they may become our closest friends.  (Applause.)  Peace with the Palestinians will open ports of peace all around the Mediterranean.  The duty of leaders is to pursue freedom ceaselessly, even in the face of hostility, in the face of doubt and disappointment.  Just imagine what could be.

Now, a young Arab generation has opened its eyes and stood up against oppression, poverty and corruption.  They seek freedom.  They need freedom.  They understand that freedom begins at home.  I pray for their success.  I believe that their success may become the success of all of us.

So, President, my vision is an Israel living in full, genuine peace, joining with all the people in the Middle East  —  former enemies, new friends alike; Jerusalem becoming the capital of peace; an Israel that is a scientific center open to all, serving all without discrimination; a green Israel, an increasingly green Middle East.

My vision is an Israel whose moral code is old as the Ten Commandments tablets, and whose imagination as new as the digital tablets as well.  (Applause.)  Together, our old and modern vision can help bring tikkun olam.  Mr. President, that’s a better world.  It will take a long time before we shall achieve it and become satisfied, as you have said.  I believe that in the coming decade, Israel will be a center of the latest development in brain research.  As the secrets of the human brain are being revealed, people may improve their capacity to choose between right and wrong.

By the way, I am also extremely optimistic about the United States of America.  You are going to be the real greatest source of energy in our time.  You are introducing a new industry, which is not mass production but individual production.  It’s a new revolution.  And you put again science on top of your agenda.

I believe in the coming decade, Israel will be also a center of the latest developments in brain research.  As the secret of the human brain are revealed, people may improve their capacity to choose between right and wrong.  And absent of a global government  — government can contribute to world peace.

Dear friends, my greatest hope is that a dawn will arise when every man and women  —  Israeli or Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese, young people wherever they are  —  will wake up in the morning and be able to say to themselves, I am free to be free.  Amen.  (Applause.)  

Peres and Panetta Meet at Pentagon

— by Rachel Shabad

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met at the Pentagon yesterday to discuss U.S.-Israel joint security cooperation as well as efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Panetta said:

The United States’ commitment to Israel’s security is rock-solid and enduring. As always, we look forward to hearing your views on the many challenges we are facing together. Our goal remains the same — for both of our nations – peace, prosperity, and a dream of leaving our children a better world.

More after the jump.
Panetta also said to Peres — who will be receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama on Wednesday:

We greatly admire your commitment to these values and we greatly admire your commitment to our relationship. I am pleased to note that the cooperation between the two militaries is stronger than ever.

 

Click here to learn more about the meeting.

Presidential Medal of Freedom

Today President Obama presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to following laureats:

  • Secretary Madeleine Albright,
  • Attorney General John Doar,
  • Musician Bob Dylan,
  • Dr. William Foege,
  • Senator John Glenn,
  • Prof. Gordon Hirabayashi,
  • Dolores Huerta,
  • Jan Karski,
  • Juliette Gordon Low,
  • Author Toni Morrison,
  • Israeli President Shimon Peres (*),
  • Justice John Paul Stevens, and
  • Coach Pat Summitt.

(Shimon Peres was not able to attend yesterday, so his medal will be awarded in a separate ceremony next month.)

Transcript after the jump.

Remarks by President Barack Obama

Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Everybody, please have a seat, and welcome to the White House.  It is an extraordinary pleasure to be here with all of you to present this year’s Medals of Freedom.  And I have to say, just looking around the room, this is a packed house, which is a testament to how cool this group is.  (Laughter.)  Everybody wanted to check them out.

This is the highest civilian honor this country can bestow, which is ironic, because nobody sets out to win it.  No one ever picks up a guitar, or fights a disease, or starts a movement, thinking, “You know what, if I keep this up, in 2012, I could get a medal in the White House from a guy named Barack Obama.”  (Laughter.)  That wasn’t in the plan.

But that’s exactly what makes this award so special.  Every one of today’s honorees is blessed with an extraordinary amount of talent.  All of them are driven.  But, yes, we could fill this room many times over with people who are talented and driven.  What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people — not in short, blinding bursts, but steadily, over the course of a lifetime.

Together, the honorees on this stage, and the ones who couldn’t be here, have moved us with their words; they have inspired us with their actions.  They’ve enriched our lives and they’ve changed our lives for the better.  Some of them are household names; others have labored quietly out of the public eye.  Most of them may never fully appreciate the difference they’ve made or the influence that they’ve had, but that’s where our job comes in.  It’s our job to help let them know how extraordinary their impact has been on our lives.  And so today we present this amazing group with one more accolade for a life well led, and that’s the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

So I’m going to take an opportunity — I hope you guys don’t mind — to brag about each of you, starting with Madeleine Albright.


Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

Usually, Madeleine does the talking.  (Laughter.)  Once in a while, she lets her jewelry do the talking.  (Laughter.)  When Saddam Hussein called her a “snake,” she wore a serpent on her lapel — (laughter) — the next time she visited Baghdad.  When Slobodan Milosevic referred to her as a “goat,” a new pin appeared in her collection.

As the first woman to serve as America’s top diplomat, Madeleine’s courage and toughness helped bring peace to the Balkans and paved the way for progress in some of the most unstable corners of the world.  And as an immigrant herself — the granddaughter of Holocaust victims who fled her native Czechoslovakia as a child — Madeleine brought a unique perspective to the job.  This is one of my favorite stories.  Once, at a naturalization ceremony, an Ethiopian man came up to her and said, “Only in America can a refugee meet the Secretary of State.”  And she replied, “Only in America can a refugee become the Secretary of State.”  (Laughter.)  We’re extraordinarily honored to have Madeleine here.  And obviously, I think it’s fair to say I speak for one of your successors who is so appreciative of the work you did and the path that you laid.

Attorney General John Doar

It was a scorching hot day in 1963, and Mississippi was on the verge of a massacre.  The funeral procession for Medgar Evers had just disbanded, and a group of marchers was throwing rocks at a line of equally defiant and heavily-armed policemen.  And suddenly, a white man in shirtsleeves, hands raised, walked towards the protestors and talked them into going home peacefully.  And that man was John Doar.  He was the face of the Justice Department in the South.  He was proof that the federal government was listening.  And over the years, John escorted James Meredith to the University of Mississippi.  He walked alongside the Selma-to-Montgomery March.  He laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  In the words of John Lewis, “He gave [civil rights workers] a reason not to give up on those in power.”  And he did it by never giving up on them.  And I think it’s fair to say that I might not be here had it not been for his work.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan started out singing other people’s songs.  But, as he says, “There came a point where I had to write what I wanted to say, because what I wanted to say, nobody else was writing.”  So born in Hibbing, Minnesota — a town, he says, where “you couldn’t be a rebel — it was too cold” — (laughter) — Bob moved to New York at age 19.  By the time he was 23, Bob’s voice, with its weight, its unique, gravelly power was redefining not just what music sounded like, but the message it carried and how it made people feel.  Today, everybody from Bruce Springsteen to U2 owes Bob a debt of gratitude.  There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.  All these years later, he’s still chasing that sound, still searching for a little bit of truth.  And I have to say that I am a really big fan.  (Laughter.)  


Dr. Bill Foege

In the 1960s, more than 2 million people died from smallpox every year.  Just over a decade later, that number was zero — 2 million to zero, thanks, in part, to Dr. Bill Foege.  As a young medical missionary working in Nigeria, Bill helped develop a vaccination strategy that would later be used to eliminate smallpox from the face of the Earth.  And when that war was won, he moved on to other diseases, always trying to figure out what works.  In one remote Nigerian village, after vaccinating 2,000 people in a single day, Bill asked the local chief how he had gotten so many people to show up.  And the chief explained that he had told everyone to come see — to “come to the village and see the tallest man in the world.”  (Laughter.)  Today, that world owes that really tall man a great debt of gratitude.


Senator and Astronaut John Glenn

On the morning that John Glenn blasted off into space, America stood still.  And for half an hour, the phones stopped ringing in Chicago police headquarters, and New York subway drivers offered a play-by-play account over the loudspeakers.  President Kennedy interrupted a breakfast with congressional leaders and joined 100 million TV viewers to hear the famous
words, “Godspeed, John Glenn.”  The first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn became a hero in every sense of the word, but he didn’t stop there serving his country.  As a senator, he found new ways to make a difference.  And on his second trip into space at age 77, he defied the odds once again.  But he reminds everybody, don’t tell him he’s lived a historic life.  He says, “Are living.”  He’ll say, “Don’t put it in the past tense.”  He’s still got a lot of stuff going on.

Professor Gordon Hirabayashi

Gordon Hirabayashi knew what it was like to stand alone.  As a student at the University of Washington, Gordon was one of only three Japanese Americans to defy the executive order that forced thousands of families to leave their homes, their jobs, and their civil rights behind and move to internment camps during World War II.  He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, and he lost.  And it would be another 40 years before that decision was reversed, giving Asian Americans everywhere a small measure of justice.  In Gordon’s words, “It takes a crisis to tell us that unless citizens are willing to standup for the [Constitution], it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”  And this country is better off because of citizens like him who are willing to stand up.

Dolores Huerta

Similarly, when Cesar Chavez sat Dolores Huerta down at his kitchen table and told her they should start a union, she thought he was joking.  She was a single mother of seven children, so she obviously didn’t have a lot of free time.  But Dolores had been an elementary school teacher and remembered seeing children come to school hungry and without shoes.  So in the end, she agreed — and workers everywhere are glad that she did.  Without any negotiating experience, Dolores helped lead a worldwide grape boycott that forced growers to agree to some of the country’s first farm worker contracts.  And ever since, she has fought to give more people a seat at the table.  “Don’t wait to be invited,” she says, “Step in there.”  And on a personal note, Dolores was very gracious when I told her I had stolen her slogan, Si, se puede.  Yes, we can.  (Laughter.)  Knowing her, I’m pleased that she let me off easy — (laughter) — because Dolores does not play.  (Laughter.)


Jan Karski

For years, Jan Karski’s students at Georgetown University knew he was a great professor; what they didn’t realize was he was also a hero.  Fluent in four languages, possessed of a photographic memory, Jan served as a courier for the Polish resistance during the darkest days of World War II.  Before one trip across enemy lines, resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale, and smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself.  Jan took that information to President Franklin Roosevelt, giving one of the first accounts of the Holocaust and imploring to the world to take action.  It was decades before Jan was ready to tell his story.  By then, he said, “I don’t need courage anymore.  So I teach compassion.”


Girl Scouts in attendance at the White House as President Obama honored Girl Scout Founder Juliette Gordon Low. Photo: Daniel Loeb (Philadelphia Jewish Voice)

Juliette Gordon Low

Growing up in Georgia in the late 1800s, Juliette Gordon Low was not exactly typical.  She flew airplanes.  She went swimming.  She experimented with electricity for fun.  (Laughter.)  And she recognized early on that in order to keep up with the changing times, women would have to be prepared.  So at age 52, after meeting the founder of the Boy Scouts in England, Juliette came home and called her cousin and said, “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world.  And we’re going to start it tonight!”  A century later, almost 60 million Girl Scouts have gained leadership skills and self-confidence through the organization that she founded.  They include CEOs, astronauts, my own Secretary of State.  And from the very beginning, they have also included girls of different races and faiths and abilities, just the way that Juliette would have wanted it.

Toni  Morrison

Toni Morrison — she is used to a little distraction.  As a single mother working at a publishing company by day, she would carve out a little time in the evening to write, often with her two sons pulling on her hair and tugging at her earrings.  Once, a baby spit up on her tablet so she wrote around it.  (Laughter.)  Circumstances may not have been ideal, but the words that came out were magical.  Toni Morrison’s prose brings us that kind of moral and emotional intensity that few writers ever attempt.  From “Song of Solomon” to “Beloved,” Toni reaches us deeply, using a tone that is lyrical, precise, distinct, and inclusive.  She believes that language “arcs toward the place where meaning might lie.”  The rest of us are lucky to be following along for the ride.


Justice John Paul Stevens

During oral argument, Justice John Paul Stevens often began his line of questioning with a polite, “May I interrupt?” or “May I ask a question?”  You can imagine the lawyers would say, “okay” — (laughter) — after which he would, just as politely, force a lawyer to stop dancing around and focus on the most important issues in the case.  And that was his signature style:  modest, insightful, well-prepared, razor-sharp.  He is the third-longest serving Justice in the history of the Court.  And Justice Stevens applied, throughout his career, his clear and graceful manner to the defense of individual rights and the rule of law, always favoring a pragmatic solution over an ideological one.  Ever humble, he would happily comply when unsuspecting tourists asked him to take their picture in front of the Court.  (Laughter.)  And at his vacation home in Florida, he was John from Arlington, better known for his world-class bridge game than his world-changing judicial opinions.  Even in his final days on the bench, Justice Stevens insisted he was still “learning on the job.”  But in the end, we are the ones who have learned from him.

Pat Summitt

When a doctor first told Pat Summitt she suffered from dementia, she almost punched him.  When a second doctor advised her to retire, she responded, “Do you know who you’re dealing with here?”  (Laughter.)  Obviously, they did not.  As Pat says, “I can fix a tractor, mow hay, plow a field, chop tobacco, fire a barn, and call the cows.  But what I’m really known for is winning.”  In 38 years at Tennessee, she racked up eight national championships and more than 1,000 wins — understand, this is more than any college coach, male or female, in the history of the NCAA.  And more importantly, every player that went through her program has either graduated or is on her way to a degree.  That’s why anybody who feels sorry for Pat will find themselves on the receiving end of that famous glare, or she might punch you.  (Laughter.)  She’s still getting up every day and doing what she does best, which is teaching.  “The players,” she says, “are my best medicine.”  

Israeli President Shimon Peres

Our final honoree is not here — Shimon Peres, the President of Israel, who has done more for the cause of peace in the Middle East than just about anybody alive.  I’ll be hosting President Peres for a dinner here at the White House next month, and we’ll be presenting him with his medal and honoring his incredible contributions to the state of Israel and the world at that time.  So I’m looking forward to welcoming him.  And if it’s all right with you, I will save my best lines about him for that occasion.

So these are the recipients of the 2012 Medals of Freedom.  And just on a personal note, I had a chance to see everybody in the back.  What’s wonderful about these events for me is so many of these people are my heroes individually.  I know how they impacted my life.

I remember reading “Song of Solomon” when I was a kid and not just trying to figure out how to write, but also how to be and how to think.  And I remember in college listening to Bob Dylan and my world opening up because he captured something that — about this country that was so vital.  And I think about Dolores Huerta, reading about her when I was starting off as an organizer.

Everybody on this stage has marked my life in profound ways.  And I was telling — somebody like Pat Summitt — when I think about my two daughters, who are tall and gifted, and knowing that because of folks like Coach Summitt they’re standing up straight and diving after loose balls and feeling confident and strong, then I understand that the impact that these people have had extends beyond me.  It will continue for generations to come.  What an extraordinary honor to be able to say thank you to all of them for the great work that they have done on behalf of this country and on behalf of the world.

So it is now my great honor to present them with a small token of our appreciation.  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  Presidential Medal of Freedom citations: Madeleine Korbel Albright.  Madeleine Korbel Albright broke barriers and left an indelible mark on the world as the first female Secretary of State in the United States’ history.  Through her consummate diplomacy and steadfast democratic ideals, Secretary Albright advanced peace in the Middle East, nuclear arms control, justice in the Balkans, and human rights around the world.  With unwavering leadership and continued engagement with the global community, she continues her noble pursuit of freedom and dignity for all people.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think this goes very well with your broach.  (Laughter.)

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  John Doar.  As African Americans strove for justice, John Doar led federal efforts to defend equality and enforce civil rights.  Risking his life to confront the injustices around him, he prevented a violent riot, obtained convictions for the killings of civil rights activists, and stood by the first African American student at the University of Mississippi on his first day of class.  During pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement and in the troubled times of the Watergate scandal, John Doar fought to protect the core values of liberty, equality and democracy that have made America a leader among nations.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  Bill Foege.

THE PRESIDENT:  He is pretty tall.  (Laughter.)

MILITARY AIDE:  A distinguished physician and epidemiologist, Bill Foege helped lead a campaign to eradicate smallpox that stands among medicine’s greatest success stories.  At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Carter Center, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he has taken on humanity’s most intractable public health challenges from infectious diseases to child survival and development.  Bill Foege has driven decades of progress to safeguard the well-being of all, and he has inspired a generation of leaders in the fight for a healthier world.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

John Glenn has set a peerless example through his service to our nation.  As a Marine Corps pilot and the first American to orbit the Earth, he sparked our passions for ingenuity and adventure and lifted humanity’s ambitions into the expanses of space.  In the United States Senate, he worked tirelessly to ensure all Americans had the opportunity to reach for limitless dreams.  Whether by advancing legislation to limit the spread of nuclear weapons or by becoming the oldest person ever to visit space, John Glenn’s example has moved us all to look to new horizons with drive and optimism.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Susan Carnahan, accepting on behalf of her husband Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi.  In his open defiance of discrimination against Japanese Americans during World War II, Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi demanded our nation live up to its founding principles.  Imprisoned for ignoring curfew and refusing to register for internment camps, he took his case to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1943.  Refusing to abandon his belief in an America that stands for fundamental human rights, he pursued justice until his conviction was overturned in 1987.  Gordon Hirabayashi’s legacy reminds us that patriotism is rooted not in ethnicity, but in our shared ideals.  And his example will forever call on us to defend the liberty of all our citizens.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta.  One of America’s great labor and civil rights icons, Dolores Clara Fernandez Huerta has devoted her life to advocating for marginalized communities.  Alongside Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the United Farm Workers of America and fought to secure basic rights for migrant workers and their families, helping save thousands from neglect and abuse.  Dolores Huerta has never lost faith in the power of community organizing, and through the Dolores Huerta Foundation, she continues to train and mentor new activists to walk the streets into history.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Adam Daniel Rotfeld, former Polish foreign minister accepting on behalf of Jan Karski.  As a young officer in the Polish Underground, Jan Karski was among the first to relay accounts of the Holocaust to the world.  A witness to atrocity in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi Izbica transit camp, he repeatedly crossed enemy line to document the face of genocide, and courageously voiced tragic truths all the way to President Roosevelt.  Jan Karski illuminated one of the darkest chapters of history, and his heroic intervention on behalf of the innocent will never be forgotten.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Richard Platt, accepting on behalf of his great aunt, Juliette Gordon Low.  An artist, athlete and trailblazer for America’s daughters, Juliette Gordon Low founded an organization to teach young women self-reliance and resourcefulness.  A century later, during the “Year of the Girl,” the Girl Scouts’ more than 3 million members are leaders in their communities and are translating new skills into successful careers.  Americans of all backgrounds continue to draw inspiration from Juliette Gordon Low’s remarkable vision, and we celebrate her dedication to empowering girls everywhere.

(The medal is presented.  Applause.)

Toni Morrison.  The first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize, Toni Morrison is one of our nation’s most distinguished storytellers.  She has captivated readers through lyrical prose that depicts the complexities of a people and challenges our concepts of race and gender.  Her works are hallmarks of the American literary tradition, and the United States proudly honors her for her nursing of souls and strengthening the character of our union.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

John Paul Stevens.  From the Navy to the bench, John Paul Stevens has devoted himself to service to our nation.  After earning a Bronze Star in World War II, Stevens returned home to pursue a career in law.  As an attorney, he became a leading practitioner of anti-trust law.  And as a Supreme Court Justice, he dedicated his long and distinguished tenure to applying our Constitution with fidelity and independence.  His integrity, humility, and steadfast commitment to the rule of law have fortified the noble vision of our nation’s founders.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Pat Summitt.  Pat Summitt is an unparalleled figure in collegiate sports.  Over 38 seasons, she proudly led the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers to 32 SEC tournament and regular season championships and eight national titles, becoming the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history.  On the court, Coach Summitt inspired young women across our country to shoot even higher in pursuit of their dreams.  Off the court, she has inspired us all by turning her personal struggle into a public campaign to combat Alzheimer’s disease.  Pat Summitt’s strength and character exemplify all that is best about athletics in America.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Bob Dylan.  A modern-day troubadour, Bob Dylan established himself as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.  The rich poetry of his lyrics opened up new possibilities for popular song and inspired generations.  His melodies have brought ancient traditions into the modern age.  More than 50 years after his career began, Bob Dylan remains an eminent voice in our national conversation and around the world.

(The medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Can everybody please stand and give a rousing applause to our Medal of Freedom winners?  (Applause.)

Well, we could not be prouder of all of them.  We could not be more grateful to all of them.  You have had an impact on all of us, and I know that you will continue to have an impact on all of us.  So thank you for being here.  Thank you for putting yourself through White House ceremonies — (laughter) — which are always full of all kinds of protocol.


White House Reception. Photo: Daniel Loeb (Philadelphia Jewish Voice)

Fortunately, we also have a reception afterwards.  I hear the food around here is pretty good.  (Laughter.)  So I look forward to all of you having a chance to stay and mingle, and again, thank you again, to all of you.  (Applause.)