WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama said Mary Robinson has "not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world" as he presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The choice of Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, as one of 16 recipients of the nation’s highest civilian honor was criticized by a number of Jewish organizations — including AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League — because of her tenure as United Nations high commissioner for human rights, particularly her leadership of the 2001 Durban conference against racism.
Many in the Jewish community believed Robinson did not do enough to stop expressions of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred, and was an unfair critic of Israel.
Obama also called Robinson "an adovcate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored" as he presented the award at the White House. Her citation said that "the fight to end discrimination and suffering is an urgent moral imperative" for Robinson, and that "she has been a trail-blazing crusader for women’s rights in Ireland and a forceful advocate for equality and human rights around the world."
Two Jewish Americans also received the medal: Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, was recognized for transforming "the nation’s approach to breast cancer," and Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in a major city as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, "fought discrimination with visionary courage and conviction," according to his citation.