Peres wants your brain! And other Medal of Freedom notes



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(Office of the Israeli President)

The White House refused to make public the list of 140 or so invitees to Shimon Peres’ Medal of Freedom ceremony, so naturally, as we reporters scrummed behind the rope, we compared notes on who exactly was there.

Lots of usual suspects: The Clintons, Vice President Joe Biden, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), respectively the chairmen of the body’s Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees.

The presence of some other guests, however, was not so much surprising – they all made sense – but nonetheless invited speculation.


–There was a cluster of Obama-on-Israel skeptics who had “come home” to the president, or that the White House still hopes to woo home: Folks who have supported Obama under certain circumstances, but who over the last 3.5 years had public differences with Obama on Israel. Among these: Alan Dershowitz, Haim Saban, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Elie Wiesel, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

–Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking member on Foreign Relations, was the only elected Republican present. (Steve Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security adviser, also was present.) Lugar also just lost a primary to a Tea Party-backed challenger, and his career is effectively over.

Did the White House invite other Republicans? Obama in 2008 named Lugar as a Republican he would consult as president, so perhaps he was simply a natural on a list that the president preferred to stack with friends.

On the other hand, if the White House did invite other Republicans and they didn’t come – has Washington become so polarized that even appearing at a Medal of Freedom ceremony is considered too toxic for all but hasbeens?

–Ziad Asali, the president of the American Task Force on Palestine, reviled among some on the left for attending the Israeli embassy’s Independence Day party in May, turned up. Now, Asali has been attending Israeli and pro-Israel events for years – he sees it as a courtesy (and it is one Israelis and pro-Israel figures return, attending his ATFP events.) You couldn’t help but think, though, seeing him here that he was indulging in a little “Frig you” to his critics.

–Ahead of the ceremony, there was a little buzz in the community about how the invitation list lacked Jewish organizational presence. (Yes, I know, boo-hoo.) But this wasn’t quite the case: Present were Howard Friedman, a past president of AIPAC and of JTA, and the incoming chairman of the board of Baltimore’s The Associated, and Alan Solow, the immediate past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Both men, yes, are also major Democratic donors, but their resumes lent the event at least a little Jewish communal heft.

–George Mitchell, who quit trying to bang heads in the region last year (three years shy of his promised five), was in attendance. That might be Obama’s signal that he refuses to regret launching an Israeli-Palestinian peace effort his second day on the job – which is when he named Mitchell mediator.

Some other observations:

–Madeleine Albright was there. I once bumped into her downtown as she was on her way to her dentist. Obama joked that she might emulate Peres and try for the nation’s top diplomatic post a second and third time. The look she shot back recalled our moment just prior to her root canal.

–You’ll hear this elsewhere, but I might as well get it in. Yitzhak Perlman performed. He was in top form, but I didn’t catch the name of the composer (whom Perlman acknowledged was a “legend in his own living room.”)

He likened the event to the UJA fundraisers he would perform for as a 13-year-old. (Then his repertoire would typically include, “the nigun of [Ernest] Bloch and Flight of the Bumblebee.”) By the time he performed in those days, Perlman said,  those in atttendance “couldn’t wait to leave, including myself. So many years later … same thing.”

Finally, Peres’ passion for the futuristic is legendary. Tonight it got a little weird:

I believe in the coming decade, Israel will be also a center of the latest developments in brain research.  As the secret of the human brain are revealed, people may improve their capacity to choose between right and wrong.  And absent of a global government — government can contribute to world peace. 

Brain control? World government? Is he trying to make the craziers crazier?

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