President Isaac Herzog will award US President Joe Biden the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor during his visit to Jerusalem next week, Herzog’s office announced on Thursday.
The medal, bestowed on individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to Israel or humanity, will be given in a ceremony next Thursday afternoon at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
The honor is being awarded to recognize Biden’s “true friendship with the State of Israel, the people of Israel, and the Jewish People; his uncompromising decades-long commitment to Israel’s security; his contributions to deepening, strengthening, and enhancing the strong and unwavering alliance between Israel and the United States of America; and his struggle against anti-Israeli and antisemitic hatred around the world,” said the president’s office.
The award, given to 26 people thus far, was initiated by then-president Shimon Peres in 2012. Based on the French Legion of Honor, the medal was last awarded in 2014. Herzog’s predecessor, Reuven Rivlin, did not grant it at all during his tenure.
Herzog reconstituted the Medal of Honor advisory committee upon taking office, led by retired Supreme Court justice Yoram Danziger.
“Since the start of President Biden’s rich career in public service in the 1970s, he has established himself as a person who loves Israel and is a true friend of the whole Jewish People,” said the committee in its recommendation.
Past recipients include former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former US president Bill Clinton, then-German chancellor Angela Merkel, and author Elie Wiesel.
Barack Obama was the only other US president to receive the honor while still in office when he received the medal from Peres in 2013.
Biden will travel to Israel and the West Bank on July 13 and 14 before continuing to Saudi Arabia, where he will participate for two days in the GCC+3 annual summit of regional leaders from UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, in addition to Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.
The main rationale behind Biden’s trip is to promote “regional integration” between Israel and its Arab neighbors, an Israeli official said Wednesday.
The official said Biden will receive a welcome ceremony upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport next Wednesday afternoon. He will hold bilateral meetings with Israeli leaders and meet with opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, in addition to visiting an Iron Dome battery, touring the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and holding a virtual meeting with Lapid, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed.
He is expected to then visit one of the medical centers in the East Jerusalem Hospital Network before traveling to Ramallah on Friday for a meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, followed by a direct flight to Jeddah for the GCC+3 conference.
The Biden administration is working to broker the transfer of a pair of Red Sea islands from Egyptian to Saudi control in an agreement that would see Riyadh take a series of steps to normalize ties with Israel, a Middle Eastern diplomat confirmed to The Times of Israel on Wednesday. The normalization measures would include Saudi Arabia opening its airspace to Israeli flights to the Far East in addition to rolling out direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia for Muslim pilgrims.
The US is seeking to finalize the agreement in time for Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he will participate in a summit with the leaders of nine Arab countries. The US National Security Council’s Middle East director Brett McGurk flew to Saudi Arabia this week in a last-ditch effort to close the deal in time, but it was unclear whether he would succeed or if the announcement would have to wait until after Biden’s trip, the Mideast diplomat said.