A few days ago, on June 14, 2012 Israeli President Shimon Peres arrived at the White House in order to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I feel a few clarifications must be made in order for this story to be fully understood. In the Israeli governmental system, the president’s job is purely representative, and the president is often called “The First Citizen.” The president has no influence on politics or the military, though he has some special rights like pardoning prisoners, appointing ambassadors, etc. Another fact that must be mentioned is Peres’ image in Israel. Peres is a very important person in Israeli politics, in which he was involved many years before becoming the president. Peres has accomplished some very important achievements in his political life, such as the Oslo agreements, and he had always believed in peace. In my opinion, which is shared by many others, Peres is an example of the average Israeli citizen – who struggles his whole life to get peace and quiet for his country. This entire introduction is why I say that when Peres received the medal, he received it as one of the Israeli people, and not as a politician or a president.
As I said – President Peres arrived at the White House on Wednesday and received the highly regarded medal (the Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the United States). Peres received the award for his life’s work and dedication for trying to achieve security and worldwide peace. The White House called Peres an “ardent advocate for Israel’s security and for peace.”
A few days before Peres’ arrival to the US, a petition was sent to him, signed by thousands of Israelis, including former presidents and ministers. The petition called for Peres to refuse receiving the award before Jonathan Pollard’s (a Jewish-American citizen who spied for Israel in the US army, now serving a life sentence in the US prison) pardon and release. The unusual petition is justified by a few critical arguments. First of all, in the entire American history, no spy has served that much time in prison. Needless to say that spies who spied for terror organizations were released whereas Pollard spied for one of America’s allies – Israel. Secondly, Pollard is now a sick 57 year-old man, who served 27 years in prison. His medical condition is deteriorating every year and he regrets his actions. Many American politicians agree with the petition and also call for Pollard’s release because of humanitarian reasons.
The president has agreed to discuss the matter with the American government, though the American position on the matter hasn’t changed a bit, despite the long-time efforts to release Jonathan Pollard. President Peres said on Tuesday that Israelis “feel very strongly about (Pollard) and I understand their sentiments. But I am doing it not as a diplomat … but as a human being.”
I call on all of you to think about this subject. I call on you to examine the matter objectively and to make up your own mind about this almost 3-decades-long struggle. I call on all of you out there to read about the Struggle for Pollard, and to see how President Shimon Peres, one of the leading Israeli personalities, a man of peace and freedom who has just joined the struggle, still acts for peace.
The ceremony (video from whitehouse on youtube.com)