(Communicated by the Office of the President)
President Shimon Peres, today (Monday, 9 June 2014), at a ceremony in Rome, bestowed the Presidential Medal of Distinction upon Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. The award is the highest civilian honor in Israel. The ceremony took place the day after President Peres attended the joint event in the Vatican hosted by Pope Francis along with Palestinian Authority President Abbas.
President Peres thanked President Napolitano for his steadfast support for Israel and said, "I am proud to confer upon you the Presidential Medal of Distinction in honor of your steadfast commitment to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. You raised a clear voice in support of Israeli democracy." President Peres addressed yesterday's event at the Vatican and said, "The time has come for peace and we must find an agreed upon solution accepted by both parties. We still face threats, namely terror from Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. We must overcome terror and improve the situation for all the people of the region. Israel stretches out its hand for peace with the Palestinians, our neighbors. I have experienced both war and peace and everyone deserves the right to live in peace."
President Napolitano "My unflagging relation with the State of Israel and the Jewish people, my determination to fight anti-Semitism and attacks on Israel are an integral part of my anti-fascist commitment. I am honored to receive this distinguished award." Turning to President Peres he said, "Peace is a part of your legacy and today we must say with conviction, the time has come for peace."
The recommendation for the award is as follows: "Over the years, President Napolitano demonstrated his uncompromising commitment to the well-being and security of the State of Israel, and inspired by him, the Italian Communist Party adopted new and independent positions in relation to the Middle East. At the time, President Napolitano clearly and consistently voiced his views on the question of Prisoners of Zion in the former Soviet whose request to emigrate to Israel was denied. President Napolitano has condemned every manifestation of terrorism and has hosted meetings between Israelis and Palestinians in an effort to seek a solution to the Middle East conflict on the basis of mutual recognition. The President represents a figure of leadership in the European arena in the fight against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. President Napolitano's relations with the State of Israel and the Jewish people have been steadfast and characterized by a deep sense of friendship. He has repeatedly expressed his steadfast position regarding Israel's unequivocal right to live in peace and security."
Later in the visit, President Peres will meet with Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini and Italian Senate President Pietro Grasso.
Background Information on the Presidential Medal of Distinction:
The Presidential Medal of Distinction is awarded to private individuals and organizations that have made unique and outstanding contributions to Tikkun Olam (Bettering the World), Israeli society and the State of Israel's image around the world, and which constitute examples of initiative, innovation, creativity and vision. The medals themselves feature the North Star to symbolize the right path and a menorah, the symbol of Israel and the continuous link between past and present. The medal is crowned with the words from Samuel 9:2 "from his shoulders and upward." The Presidential Medal of Distinction is comparable to the "Legion of Honor" (France) or the "Order of Canada."
The advisory committee for the Presidential Medal of Distinction includes retired Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar, former President Yitzhak Navon, Professor Suzie Navot, Dr. Mohammed Issawi, Rabbi Dr. Ratzon Arusi, Gil Shwed and Professor Anita Shapira. Previous winners of the award include President Obama, President Clinton, Elie Wiesel, former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger, the Music Director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Mr. Zubin Mehta, Attorney Uri Slonim, Judy Feld Carr, The Rashi Foundation and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.