In an odd twist on the Middle East peace process, King Hussein of Jordan has been named the recipient of two peace awards: one named after the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, the other named after controversial U.N. and Austrian leader Kurt Waldheim.
The king has accepted an invitation to visit the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center and accept the award this year, possibly as early as May. Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the center, extended the invitation to Hussein and his wife, Queen Noor, on Tuesday at the royal palace in Amman.
Hier paid tribute to the king’s commitment to peace, as exemplified by the peace treaty he signed with Israel last fall.
While offering the invitation, Hier spoke to fears that an increasingly isolationist U.S. Congress would make the “tragic error” of slashing aid to those “who have taken the greatest risks for peace” in the Middle East. A congressional committee last week cut a proposed White House aid package of $275 million to Jordan next year down to $50 million.
During his visit to Los Angeles, Hussein will give a major address and receive the Museum of Tolerance Peace Award. This is the first time an Arab leader will receive this honor.
Hussein was scheduled to receive another award this Friday: the Waldheim peace prize. The king was reportedly nominated for the prize for his efforts to bring peace to the Middle East, capped by Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel.
However, organizers said Wednesday that the king was too ill to go to the former imperial Hofburg palace in Vienna to receive the award. Hussein spoke to Waldheim by telephone, and reportedly asked for the ceremony to be delayed. The nature of his illness was not disclosed.
During his campaign for the Austrian presidency in 1986, it was revealed that Waldheim, who served as U.N. secretary-general from 1972 to 1981, had concealed facts about his activities during World War II.
As a Nazi intelligence officer stationed in the Balkans, Waldheim has been implicated in the deportations of Jews to forced labor camps and reprisal killings of Yugoslav partisans.
The Friends of Waldheim Institute founded the peace prize “for the solution of conflict” after Waldheim ended his six-year term as Austria’s president in 1992.