March 4, 2012 - 22:58 AMT
Obama bestows U.S. highest civilian award on Israeli President

U.S. President Barack Obama announced Sunday, March 4, that he was bestowing America's highest civilian award, the presidential Medal of Freedom, upon Israeli President Shimon Peres, for his "moral example," AFP reported.

"Shimon once described the story of the Jewish people by saying it proved that, 'slings, arrows and gas chambers can annihilate man, but cannot destroy human values, dignity, and freedom'," Obama said during a keynote address to a pro-Israel lobby group in Washington, speaking after the Israeli leader.

"He has lived those values. He has taught us to ask more of ourselves, and to empathize more with our fellow human beings. I am grateful for his life's work and his moral example."

Obama said the award would be presented to the 88-year-old Peres, a two-time former Israeli prime minister who also served once as interim prime minister, later this spring at the White House.

Peres first served as Israeli prime minister in 1977 after the resignation of Yitzhak Rabin, and has been a tireless advocate for peace with the Palestinians, enduring years of criticism even from his own Labor Party.

As foreign minister he initiated the negotiations that led to the 1993 Oslo Accords - the framework for future peace drives with the Palestinians - and completed a hard-won peace treaty with Jordan.

Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Price for Peace with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Rabin for his work on the Oslo Accords.