President Shimon Peres bestowed the President's Medal upon U.S. President Barack Obama Thursday evening, in the course of a ceremonial dinner in Obama's honor at the President's Residence. The medal was given to Obama for his unique contribution to Israel's security.
This is the first time in which an honorary decoration is bestowed by an Israeli president upon a president who is still serving in office. Peres received the U.S. President's Medal of Freedom from Obama last year.
The ceremony took place in the course of a gala dinner at the President's Residence that will include the prime minister and his wife, various representatives of the Israeli public and senior members of the U.S. administration.
Israel's recently selected beauty queen, an Ethiopian Jew, was also in attendance.
The text of President Peres's speech is as follows:
"My dear Friend,
"It is my great pleasure to welcome you tonight. I was moved by the way in which you spoke to the hearts of the young Israelis .Our youngsters, in times of need, are always willing to stand up and defend their country. Today, you have seen how much the same young people long for peace. How enthusiastic they were, how engaged they were, listening to the vision of peace which you so beautifully portrayed .Mr. President,
"This morning several rockets were shot from the Gaza Strip towards civilian targets, including Sderot, which you have visited.
"From here, in the name of all of us, I want to convey our love to the inhabitants of the South. Who carry this heavy burden so courageously. And continue to plow their fields, plant their trees and raise their children. It is an inspiration to each of us. Today the enemies of peace spoke in the only language they know, the language of terror. I am convinced that together we will defeat terror.
"Your visit here is a historic event. We are so happy to receive you and your distinguished delegation. I am very glad to see Secretary Kerry. A reassuring friend. John, I know you and I know you will be successful. I am not sure that the prophets had speech-writers. But if they did, I imagine Isaiah would have said as he had said: "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news. Who proclaim peace. Who bring good tidings. Who proclaim salvation." Well, you'll have to be satisfied with my diet language.
"It is my privilege to present you with our country’s highest honor, the Medal of Distinction. This award speaks to your tireless work to make Israel strong. And peace possible. Your presidency has given the close ties between Israel and the United States a new height. A sense of intimacy. A vision for the future. The people of Israel are particularly moved by your unforgettable contribution to their security. To defending our skies. To the collaboration in the domain of intelligence, which is the right way to preempt bloodshed. The diplomatic and military bonds between us have reached an unprecedented level.
"When I visited you in Washington, I thought in my heart: America is so great and we are so small. But I learned that you don't measure us by size, but by values. When it comes to values, we are you and you are us.
"On occasion, when we were alone, you stood with us. So we were not alone. We were alone together. We shall never forget it. During your previous visit to Israel, you asked me if I had any advice to offer. It is not in my nature to let questions go unanswered. So I suggested that while people say that the future belongs to the young, it is the present that really belongs to the young. Leave the future to me. I have time. It was right. The moment you came into office, you immediately had to face daunting and demanding challenges.
"Day-in, day-out. I prayed that you would meet them with wisdom and determination. Without losing hope. Without allowing others to lose hope. The prayers were answered. After all, they came from Jerusalem. It is a tribute to your leadership. To the strength of your character. To your principles, that you have never surrendered to hopelessness. You stood and stand firmly by your vision. Your values serve your nation. They serve our nation. They serve all nations around the world. So I know that you will never stop to strive for a better world.Tikkun Olam. We have a rich heritage and a great dream.
"As I look back, I feel that the Israel of today has exceeded the vision we had 65 years ago. Reality has surpassed our dreams. The United States of America helped us to make this possible. Still the path to tomorrow may be fraught with obstacles. I believe that we can overcome them. By our determination and your commitment. I am convinced that you will do whatever is necessary to free the world's horizons and the skies of Jerusalem from the Iranian threat. Iran denies the Shoah and calls for a new one. Iran is building a nuclear bomb and denies it.
"The Iranian regime is the greatest danger to world peace. History has shown, time and again, that peace, prosperity and a stable civil society cannot flourish where threats and belligerence abound. Tonight, the Iranian people are celebrating their New Year, Nuruz. I wish them from the depth of my heart a happy holiday. A real freedom. Israel will seize any opportunity for peace. Being small, we have to maintain our qualitative edge. I know that you responded to it. The strength of the Israeli Defense Forces affords us the ability to seek peace. And, what America has contributed to Israel’s security is the best guarantee to end the march of folly. Of terror and bloodshed.
"We watch with admiration the way you lead the United States of America.The way you stay true, time and again, to your bonds of friendship with us.Your commitment and deeds speak volumes about the principles that guide America to strive for freedom and democracy at home, and all over the world.
"What is uplifting is that the United States brought freedom to its own people but never stopped to help other people to become free. You represent democracy at its best. You have deepened its meaning. Namely, that democracy is not just the right to be equal. But the equal right to be different. That democracy is not just free expression, but self-expression. You exemplify the spirit of democracy by striving for justice and equality of opportunity in the American society. The world has now become global, and yet remains individual as well. You have shown global responsibility and individual sensitivity.
"On Monday night, we shall celebrate Passover. The Festival of Freedom. The celebration of spring. Our journey from the house of slaves to the home of the free started more than 3,000 years ago. We remember it every year. We are commanded to feel as though each of us personally participated in that journey. We shall not forget where we came from. And where we are headed towards. To make the Promised Land a land of promise. A land of freedom, justice and equality. While reality calls for vigilance, Passover calls for us to remain believers.
"Israel is an island in a stormy sea. We have to make our island safe and we wish for the sea to become tranquil. We converted our desert into a garden. It was achieved by the talents of our people and the potential of science. What we have done, Mr. President, can be done all over the Middle East, as you have said. Israel is described as a Start-Up Nation. The Middle East can become a Start-Up Region.
"Dear President, You noted in your address today that peace is the greatest hope. I share your vision. Your call to reopen the peace process may pave the way for the implementation of the Two State Solution agreed by all of us.As you said: A Jewish state – Israel. An Arab State – Palestine. Next to you sits the reelected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He opened his address to the Knesset by reiterating his commitment to the Two State Solution.
"After everything I have seen in my life, I earned the right to believe that peace is attainable. As you felt today, I know this is the deep conviction of our people. With our resolve and your support, it will happen.
"Mr. President, I am privileged to bestow upon you the Medal of Distinction. It was recommended by a committee of seven prominent Israeli citizens, headed by our former Chief Justice Shamgar, and including our former President Navon.It was my view and I was glad to accept their recommendation. You inspire the world with your leadership. Toda raba, Mr. President.
"Toda, from a grateful nation, to a great leader."