One week after being given the Presidential Medal of Freedom from US President Barack Obama, President Shimon Peres bestowed Israel’s version of the same honor on former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger.
“I am old enough to know that people are no less important than ideas,” Peres said while awarding Kissinger the Presidential Award of Distinction at a ceremony Tuesday. “The world has learned to say thank you and the time has come for us as well to thank great people who have served as examples for the younger generation so that we might pass on the message that every person can be as great as his deeds and his ideas.”
The award was given at the start of the President’s Conference, an annual event initiated by Peres, 88, to bring together high-level officials and personalities to discuss Jewish and Israeli issues.
The award was given to Kissinger, who served under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford in the 1970s, “for his unique contribution to Israel and to peace in the Middle East, and for being a statesman with foresight, creativity and vision.”
Speaking in praise of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Peres singled out Kissinger’s “significant contribution to the State of Israel and to humanity.”
“You are an inspiration for those who seek peace and those who seek understanding between nations and peoples,” said Peres.
“My parents would be more proud of this honor than any other distinctions that have come my way,” said Kissinger accepting the award.
Kissinger spoke about Israel being “in many respects an island of stability and of domestic cohesion at moment of upheaval everywhere else, although you couldn’t necessarily prove that from debates going on sometimes in the Knesset.”
Kissinger also addressed the Iran nuclear deadlock, saying “at what point does one conclude that negotiations have reached their limit? That’s not a question that should be answered unilaterally. The UN Security Council has said for 10 years that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable.”
Another speaker at the ceremony was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who called on the Palestinian Authority and Israel to move for peace. “Israel alone can’t deliver it. But Israel should always strive for it,” Blair said. “Israel not a threat to the region, it’s a model for it.”
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.