White House backs honor for ex-U.N. rights chief


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The White House is defending the selection of Mary Robinson as a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

Some supporters of Israel, particularly on the right, have criticized the selection primarily because of Robinson’s role in the 2001 Durban anti-racism conference. Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, was one of 16 choices of the Obama administration to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor.

As the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Robinson presided over the conference and was seen by Jewish groups as not doing enough to stop the expressions of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel actions at the event.

The Anti-Defamation League said awarding the medal to Robinson,  was "ill advised."

"While Mary Robinson may have accomplishments to her credit, she also, unfortunately, has an animus towards Israel as evidenced by her tenure as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights," said ADL National Director Abraham Foxman in a statement. "As head of the international body that was consumed with anti-Israel bias, rather than be constructive and act objectively, she became its lead cheerleader by adopting the Palestinian narrative."

The late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) wrote in 2002 that "much of the responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders" of Robinson, who "in her role as secretary general of the conference failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track."

"Mary Robinson has dedicated her career to human rights and working to improve an imperfect world," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Friday. "As with any public figure, we don’t necessarily agree with every statement she has ever made, but it’s clear that she has been an agent of change and a fighter for good."

A White House official added that the administration was standing behind the choice but would not be getting into the deliberations over her selection.

Robinson also was a strong critic of Israel’s use of force against the Palestinians during her time at the United Nations.

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