WASHINGTON (JTA) — A Jewish Democratic congressman is criticizing President Obama’s choice of Mary Robinson for a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“It think it’s a mistake given Mary Robinson’s bias and statements and actions,” said Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday evening in an interview with JTA. "She personifies everything wrong with the United Nations."
Engel, the first Democratic congressman to publicly criticize the administration’s selection, said he didn’t think the White House would withdraw the award because "they don’t want to look like they buckled under to pressure."
But, he added, "I hope that they would. It’s a poor choice."
Engel joined AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America and the Republican Jewish Coalition in criticizing the selection of Robinson, the former U.N. high commissioner for human rights, as one of 16 recipients for the highest civilian honor in the United States.
As high commissioner, Robinson presided over the 2001 Durban conference against racism. Jewish groups and supporters of Israel have said that Robinson did not do enough to deter or prevent the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hostility that occurred at the conference. They also have accused her of being a one-sided critic of Israel both during her 1997-2002 tenure at the United Nations and since.
Engel did not think the selection of Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, was meant to send any kind of message about the president’s Middle East policy, but was likely just a "screw-up" by the White House.
The congressman cautioned, however, that he didn’t want to "blow it out of proportion," noting that there are "a lot more important things" going on in addition to the Robinson controversy.