The ceremony to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom is scheduled for today at 3:10 p.m. at the White House and Mary Robinson will be there. But pundits continue to weigh in on her selection. Today on the Washington Post’s Web site, editorial page writer Charles Lane says Robinson, particularly because of her status as a non-U.S. citizen, doesn’t quite make the grade for the award:
By law, the medal is supposed to go to those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant publate endeavors.” I just don’t think Robinson, though an accomplished civil rights lawyer in her youth, a skilled self-promoter and a fixture at global confabs, has done anything especially meritorious in those areas, much less meritorious enough to outweigh the troubling part of her record.
Of the 588 Presidential Medals of Freedom given out since 1963, only 28 have gone to non-U.S. citizens — less than 5 percent of the total. The bar is, and should be, a little higher for foreigners. Minor figures have slipped through (former NATO secretary-general Manlio Giovanni Brosio, for example). But for the most part, foreign recipients have been substantial people: Mother Teresa, Jacques Cousteau, Aung San Suu Kyi.
The number of current or former heads of state or government who’ve gotten the medal is even smaller — 12. Only a few have inspired sufficient good feeling across the American spectrum. This ultra-select group includes two popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, Anwar Sadat, Lech Walesa, Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl and Nelson Mandela.
President George W. Bush pushed the limits of consensus a bit by including Tony Blair and Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, both disliked on the left. But neither was as polarizing as Robinson will be. Like the other foreign leaders on the list, they stood by the United States in perilous times.
Meanwhile, a few days ago, author Rich Cohen (not to be confused with Post columnist Richard Cohen) argued that Robinson may not be the best choice for the medal, but groups like AIPAC have better things to do with their time than protest her selection:
So what if, a year from now, all that many people remember of the Presidential Medal of Freedom awards is how AIPAC got worked up about something that was not all that important? As offensive as some of Robinson’s actions have been — in particular, her work on the Human Rights Commission, which seems to have a perverse predilection for smacking Israel, and her leadership role at the Durban Conference, and the deplorable resolution that came out of that conference equating Zionism with racism — I simply do not believe that this issue (the award has been given to a grab-bag of people, including Buzz Aldrin, Pearl Bailey and Andy Griffith, and does not have to be considered the final say on human value) is worth the struggle.
AIPAC, like all lobbying groups, is meant to focus on legislation that is favorable or detrimental to its cause, which in this case is the security of Israel and the real and ominous threats it faces. That is a mission from which, sadly, many young Jews, who have intermarried, lost their faith, stopped caring or simply fulfilled an American version of the old Zionist dream — a life free of fear and worry about being a Jew — feel increasingly disconnected. In such a circumstance — and according to the trend lines, the future does not look good — it seems important for Jews concerned about Israel to focus on the fights that really matter. Any sentence that includes the word Iran can be plugged in here.
And JTA’s editor in chief, Ami Eden, explains why AIPAC and other groups have been so vocal about the Robinson award:
Even after years of renewed Palestinian terror and rocket attacks, most Israelis and American Jews are still willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Israeli and American leaders who try to reach a fair and workable peace agreement. That’s why efforts to paint President Obama as anti-Israel based on his opposition to settlement construction have generally failed, at least among American Jews and Jewish groups.
The fight over Robinson isn’t about criticizing Israel. It’s about Durban and the noxious notion that in a world filled with racism and genocide, Israel is a rogue nation deserving of special rebuke.
In the end, Robinson ended up lending legitimacy to this warped worldview. So however praiseworthy her other efforts in shining a light on human rights issues, don’t expect friends of Israel to think she’s deserving of America’s highest civilian honor.