President Obama recently released the sixteen names of the”agents of change” in politics, science, art, medicine, and sports deserving of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Among the honorees was Mary Robinson, the first female President of Ireland and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
During her time as U.N. High Commissioner, Ms. Robinson presided over the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. Her role in that conference, and her critical statements of Israel, has sparked an outcry from Jewish organizations including AIPAC, the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Zionist Organization of America over the special recognition by President Obama.
The 2001 World Conference Against Racism started with praise-worthy goals but deteriorated into not only a conference dedicated to Israel-bashing, but anti-Semitism so severe that the United States and other nations walked out of the conference in protest.
The ADL’s national director Abraham Foxman suggested that Obama’s pick of Robinson was a case of “sloppy research” and not a deliberate act against the Jewish community or Israel. However, JTA reports, the pick is “fueling speculation over whether the controversy is an example of poor vetting or a conscious decision to push ahead despite the predictable complaints from some sectors of the Jewish community.”
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I may be the only Jew in Yeshiva who voted for Obama. While I seriously disagree with his stance on Israel and foreign policy, our new president is a man I respect, and his book, “The Audacity of Hope,” really resonated with me. Now whether he truly believes and will follow the creed laid out in that great work is another story, but blaming “sloppy research” on who he awards America’s highest civilian honor to is unacceptable. For a man who carefully proofreads and edits his speeches minutes before he is about to give them to miss a key fact about his nominee seems highly unlikely. Robinson’s activities and open hostility to Israel were not some secret buried away in her past. They were part of a public forum dedicated to demonizing the Jewish state. Obama’s choice does not look like a kid doing a cannon ball into a pool he didn’t know was freezing, rather it’s the kid sticking his big toe in to see if he can get away with swimming in it.