ROME — President Shimon Peres on Monday bestowed the state’s highest civilian honor on his Italian counterpart, whom he described as unequivocally devoted to the right of Israelis to live in peace and security.

“I am proud to confer upon you the Presidential Medal of Distinction in honor of your steadfast commitment to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. You raised a clear voice in support of Israeli democracy,” Peres told President Giorgio Napolitano at Rome’s Quirinal Palace.

Napolitano, a longtime Communist activist and supporter of Israel, said, “My unflagging relation with the State of Israel and the Jewish people, my determination to fight anti-Semitism and attacks on Israel, are an integral part of my anti-fascist commitment.”

The 88-year-old president faced steady criticism from with the Communist party in Italy for his work advocating for the freedom of the Soviet Prisoners of Zion and perhaps for what were seen as his overly robust condemnations of terror.

Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction, an award developed under Peres in 2012, has been awarded 17 times to figures ranging from Barack Obama to Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.

Peres on the red carpet at the Quirinal Palace in Rome (photo credit: Haim Tzach/GPO)

Peres on the red carpet at the Quirinal Palace in Rome (photo credit: Haim Tzach/GPO)

Peres mentioned the peace invocation ceremony at the Vatican Sunday, saying that both sides deserved peace and neither could afford to give up on the chances of attaining it. “We still face threats, namely terror from Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. We must overcome terror and improve the situation for all the people of the region,” Peres said. “Israel stretches out its hand for peace with the Palestinians, our neighbors. I have experienced both war and peace and everyone deserves the right to live in peace.”