Shimon Peres

Presidential Medal of Freedom Acceptance Address

delivered 13 June 2012, White House, Washington, D.C.

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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

  Mr. President, Mrs. Obama, it's so hard to speak after you, my god.  You are so moving. But thank you.

I really was profound[ly] moved by your decision to award me the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  To receive it is an honor.  To receive it from you, Mr. President, in the presence of my dear family, is a privilege that I shall cherish for the rest of my life.  Thank you so much.

It is a testament to the historic friendship between our two nations.  When I was really young -- not like now -- the founder of the State of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, called me to work with him.  For 65 years, inspired by his leadership, I tried to gather strength for my country, pursue peace for my people.  I learned that public service is a privilege that must be based on moral foundations.

I receive this honor today on behalf of the people of Israel.  They are the true recipients of this honor.  With this moving gesture, you are paying, Mr. President, tribute to generations upon generations of Jews who dreamed of, fought for a state of their own -- a state that would give them a shelter; a state that they could really defend by themselves.

So, Mr. President, you are honoring the pioneers who built homes on bombed mountains, on shifting land; fighters who sacrificed their life for their country.  On their behalf, I thank you.  I thank America for days of concern, for sleepless nights, caring for our safety, caring for our future.

Tonight, Mr. President, you kindly invited outstanding personalities whose commitment to Israel is nothing less than heroic.  I offer them the eternal gratitude of my people.  Present here, for me is a very moving presence is Dalia Rabin, the daughter of my partner, the unforgettable Yitzhak Rabin, who gave his life for peace.

Mr. President, you have pledged a lasting friendship for Israel.  You stated that Israel's security is sacrosanct for you. So you pledged; so you act.  So you are acting as a great leader, as a champion for peace.  Thank you again.

Dear friends, Israel sincerely admires the United States for being a land of the free, a home of the brave, a nation of generosity.  A world without the United States, without the values of the United States, would have been chaotic.  Moses began his journey to freedom by demanding, "let my people go."  The prophet Isaiah promised nations will take up swords against nations.  A biblical promise became a grand American reality, first and foremost in human annals.

When the Liberty Bell rang in Philadelphia, it resonated throughout the world.  A tired world was surprised to witness, contrary to its experience, a great nation becoming greater by giving, not by taking; by making generosity the wisdom of policy, and freedom as its heart -- freedom from oppression, from persecution, freedom from violence and evil, freedom from discrimination and ignorance; liberty that does not fear liberty, liberty that doesnít interfere with the liberty of others.  You introduced a constitution based on balance, not on force.

Liberty is also the soul of the Jewish heritage.  We didnít give up our values, even when we were facing furnaces and gas chambers.  We lived as Jews.  We died as Jews.  And we rose again as free Jewish people.  We didnít survive merely to be a passing shadow in history, but as a new genesis, a startup nation again.

We are faced with the worst of humanity, but also experience the best of humanity.  We shouldnít forget either of the two.  When we discovered that we were short of land and water, we realized that we had the priceless resource -- the courageous, undefeatable human spirit.

We invested in knowledge and turned our attention to the ever-growing promise of science.  Unlike land and water, science cannot be conquered by armies or won by wars.  In fact, science can make wars unnecessary.  Science provided Israel with the unexpected economic goals -- it enabled us to absorb millions of immigrants.  Science enabled us to build an agriculture that is ten times the normal yield.  It enables us to build an effective defense against armies ten times greater than us.  Brave soldiers and sophisticated tools brought us victory in life.

But we remain the people of the book.  Yes, my friends, Israel is the living proof that democracy means progress, science means growth, literature and knowledge means enrichment.  Israel today is an innovating, pluralistic society where Jews, Christians and Muslims live together in peace.  It is not perfect, but it is an example of what may happen in the future.

My friends, we live now in and are now witnessing the departure of one age and the arrival of a new age.  The agricultural age lasted for 10,000 years; the scientific age is still fresh.  Yet in 50 years, the scientific age has achieved more than the 10,000 years of agriculture.  This new age has brought new challenges, new dangers.  It generated a global economy but not a global government.  It gave birth to horrors of global terrorism without global control.

The danger is today concentrated in Iran.  The Iranian people are not our enemies.  It is the present leadership that became a threat.  It turned Iran into a danger to world peace.  It is a leadership that aims to rule the Middle East, spreading terror all over the world.  They are trying to build a nuclear bomb.  They bring darkness to a world longing for light.

It is our responsibility to our own people, to our friends throughout the world, to posterity, that the Iranian threat must be stopped, and it cannot be delayed.

Mr. President, you worked so hard to build a world coalition to meet this immediate threat.  You started, rightly, with economic sanctions.  You made it clear -- rightly, again -- that all options are on the table.  Clearly, we support you and your policy.

Friends, extremists are using the conflict of the Palestinians to cover their true ambitions.  The majority of the people in the Middle East, in my judgment, are tired of war.  In many homes, families still mourn the loss of their loved one.  I believe that peace with the Palestinians is most urgent -- urgent than ever before.  It is necessary.  It is crucial.  It is possible.  A delay may worsen its chances.

I remember that 19 years ago, on the lawn outside this house, President Clinton -- dear, Bill -- initiated the peace process.  Thank you very much.    Since then, the Israelis and Palestinians have come a long way together.  But still, hard work remains ahead.  Israel and the Palestinians are, in my judgment, ripe today to restart the peace process.

A firm basis already exists.  A solution of two national states -- a Jewish state -- Israel; an Arab state -- Palestine.  The Palestinians are our closest neighbors.  I believe they may become our closest friends.    Peace with the Palestinians will open ports of peace all around the Mediterranean.  The duty of leaders is to pursue freedom ceaselessly, even in the face of hostility, in the face of doubt and disappointment.  Just imagine what could be.

Now, a young Arab generation has opened its eyes and stood up against oppression, poverty and corruption.  They seek freedom.  They need freedom.  They understand that freedom begins at home.  I pray for their success.  I believe that their success may become the success of all of us.

So, President, my vision is an Israel living in full, genuine peace, joining with all the people in the Middle East -- former enemies, new friends alike; Jerusalem becoming the capital of peace; an Israel that is a scientific center open to all, serving all without discrimination; a green Israel, an increasingly green Middle East.

My vision is an Israel whose moral code is old as the Ten Commandments tablets, and whose imagination as new as the digital tablets as well.    Together, our old and modern vision can help bring tikkun olam.  Mr. President, that's a better world.  It will take a long time before we shall achieve it and become satisfied, as you have said.  I believe that in the coming decade, Israel will be a center of the latest development in brain research.  As the secrets of the human brain are being revealed, people may improve their capacity to choose between right and wrong.

By the way, I am also extremely optimistic about the United States of America.  You are going to be the real greatest source of energy in our time.  You are introducing a new industry, which is not mass production but individual production.  It's a new revolution.  And you put again science on top of your agenda.

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.

Dear friends, my greatest hope is that a dawn will arise when every man and women -- Israeli or Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese, young people wherever they are -- will wake up in the morning and be able to say to themselves, I am free to be free.

Amen.


Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

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