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Israeli human rights groups back Robinson pick

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Seven Israeli human rights groups wrote to President Obama supporting the choice of Mary Robinson as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"Mrs. Robinson deserves this honor for a lifetime of unflagging support to the cause of human rights in its many dimensions," the leaders of B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Binkom-Planners for Planners Rights, Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, Hamoked-Center for the Defense of the Individual and Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights said in their letter to the president.

A number of Jewish groups, including AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League, have criticized the choice of Robinson because they feel she did not do enough to stop expressions of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred during the 2001 Durban conference against racism over which she presided as the United Nations high commissioner of human rights. They also have charged that Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, has been an unfair critic of Israel and has an animus toward the Jewish state.

"As leaders of a sector within Israeli civil society that monitors and often criticizes government and military policy for violating human rights, we do not see such actions as plausible reason for denying Mrs. Robinson the award," the groups wrote. "We believe that holding Israel accountable to its obligations under international law is part of the role of the international community through agencies like the United Nations and others."

The letter also argued that the Robinson criticism "distracts attention from the real issues that need to be addressed to foster peace and security for Israel and its neighbors."

Robinson is among 16 recipients of the award this year, which will be handed out Wednesday.

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