President Obama Awards Shimon Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom


President Obama:
Good evening, everybody. Please have a seat. On behalf of
Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House on
this beautiful summer evening. The United States is fortunate
to have many allies and partners around the world. Of course, one of
our strongest allies, and one of our closest friends,
is the State of Israel. And no individual has done so
much over so many years to build our alliance and to bring our
two nations closer as the leader that we honor tonight —
our friend, Shimon Peres. (applause) Among many special guests this
evening we are especially grateful for the presence of
Shimon’s children — Tzvia, Yoni and Chemi,
and their families. Please rise so we can give
you a big round of applause. (applause) We have here someone
representing a family that has given so much for
peace, a voice for peace that carries on with
the legacy of her father, Yitzhak Rabin —
and that’s Dalia. We are grateful
to have you here. (applause) Leaders who’ve helped ensure
that the United States is a partner for peace —
and in particular, I’m so pleased to see
Secretary Madeleine Albright, who is here this evening. (applause) And one of the great moral
voices of our time and an inspiration to us all —
Professor Elie Wiesel. (applause) The man, the life that we
honor tonight is nothing short of extraordinary. Shimon took on his first
assignment in Ben-Gurion’s Haganah, during the struggle for
Israeli independence in 1947, when he was still
in his early 20s. He ran for President of Israel
— and won — when he was 83. (laughter) By the way, I should mention
that I just learned that his son-in-law is also his doctor. And I asked for all his tips. (laughter) Shimon has been serving his
nation — and strengthening the bonds between our two
nations — for some 65 years, the entire life of
the State of Israel. Ben-Gurion and Meir, Begin
and Rabin — these giants of Israel’s founding generation
now belong to the ages. But tonight, we have the rare
privilege in history — and that’s to be in the presence
of a true Founding Father. Shimon, you have
never stopped serving. And in two months we’ll join
our Israeli friends in marking another milestone —
your 89th birthday. (applause) Now, I think Shimon would be
the first to tell you that in the ups and downs of
Israeli politics, he has been counted
out more than once. But in him we see the essence of
Israel itself — an indomitable spirit that will not be denied. He’s persevered, serving in
virtually every position — in dozens of cabinets, some
two dozen ministerial posts, defense minister,
finance minister, foreign minister three times. Try that, Madeleine. (laughter) And now, the 9th
President of Israel. And I think President Clinton
would agree with me on this — Shimon Peres is the
ultimate “Comeback Kid.” (laughter) And he’s still going
— on Facebook, on You Tube — (laughter) — connecting with young people;
looking to new technologies, always “facing tomorrow.” Recently, he was asked, “What
do you want your legacy to be?” And Shimon replied, “Well,
it’s too early for me to think about it.” (laughter) Shimon, you earned your
place in history long ago. And I know your work
is far from done. But tonight is another example
of how it’s never too early for the rest of us to celebrate
your legendary life. Shimon teaches us to never
settle for the world as it is. We have a vision for the
world as it ought to be, and we have to strive for it. Perhaps Shimon’s spirit comes
from what he calls the Jewish “dissatisfaction gene.” (laughter) “A good Jew,” he says,
“can never be satisfied.” There is a constant impulse to
question, to do even better. So, too, with nations — we must
keep challenging ourselves, keep striving for our ideals,
for the future that we know is possible. Shimon knows the
necessity of strength. As Ben-Gurion said, “An Israel
capable of defending herself, which cannot be destroyed,
can bring peace nearer.” And so he’s worked with
every American President since John F. Kennedy. That’s why I’ve worked with
Prime Minister Netanyahu to ensure that the security
cooperation between the United States and Israel is closer and
stronger than it has ever been — because the security
of the State of Israel is non-negotiable, and the bonds
between us are unbreakable. (applause) Of course, Shimon also knows
that a nation’s security depends not just on the
strength of its arms, but upon the righteousness of
its deeds — its moral compass. He knows, as Scripture teaches,
that we must not only seek peace, but we must pursue peace. And so it has been the
cause of his life — peace, security and dignity, for
Israelis and Palestinians and all Israel’s Arab neighbors. And even in the darkest moments,
he’s never lost hope in — as he puts it — “a Middle East that
is not a killing field but a field of creativity and growth.” At times, some have seen
his hope and called Shimon Peres a dreamer. And they are right. Just look at his life. The dream of generations,
after 2,000 years, to return to Israel, the
historic homeland of the Jewish people —
Shimon lived it. The dream of independence, a
Jewish State of Israel — he helped win it. The dream of an Israel strong
enough to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,
backed by an ironclad alliance with the United States of
America — he helped build it. The dream of making the desert
bloom — he and his wife Sonya were part of the generation
that achieved it. The dream of the high-tech
Israel we see today — he helped spark it. That historic handshake on the
White House lawn — he helped to create it. That awful night in Tel Aviv,
when he and Yitzhak sang a Song for Peace, and the grief
that followed — he guided his people through it. The dream of democracy in the
Middle East and the hopes of a new generation, including so
many young Arabs — he knows we must welcome
it and nurture it. So, yes, Shimon Peres — born
in a shtetl in what was then Poland, who rose to become
President of Israel — he is a dreamer. And rightly so. For he knows what we must never
forget: With faith in ourselves and courage in our hearts,
no dream is too big, no vision is beyond our reach. And so it falls on each of
us — to all of us — to keep searching, to keep striving
for that future that we know is possible, for the peace
our children deserve. And so it is a high honor for
me to bestow this statesman, this warrior for peace,
America’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential
Medal of Freedom. And I’d ask you to please join
me in welcoming President Peres to the presentation. (applause) Military Aide:
The President of the
United States of America awards this Presidential Medal
of Freedom to Shimon Peres. An ardent advocate for Israel’s
security and the cause of lasting peace, Shimon
Peres has devoted his life to public service. He was awarded the Nobel Peace
Prize for the profound role he played in Middle East peace
talks that led to the Oslo Accords, and he continues to
serve the Israeli people with courage and dignity. Through his unwavering devotion
to his country and the cooperation of nations, he has
strengthened the unbreakable bonds between Israel
and the United States. (the medal is presented) (applause) President Obama:
Before inviting remarks
from President Peres, I’d like to conclude by
inviting you all to join me in a toast, with the words that
Shimon spoke when he accepted the Peace Prize in Oslo:
“From my earliest youth, I have known that while one is
obliged to plan with care the stages of one’s journey,
one is entitled to dream, and keep dreaming,
of its destination. A man may feel as
old as his years, yet as young as his dreams.” Shimon, to all our
friends here tonight, and to our fellow citizens
across America and Israel — may we never lose sight
of our destination. Shalom, and may we always
be as young as our dreams. L’chaim. Cheers. I have one last order of
business to attend to. Before I ask our recipient to
come to the stage — while I began my remarks I was not yet
sure whether one more — or two more guests of
honor had arrived. I think it would be entirely
appropriate at this point for us also to acknowledge two people
who have constantly sought to achieve peace, not only in the
Middle East but all around the world — one of them happens
to be traveling a lot these days on my behalf — (laughter) — and I am extraordinarily
grateful to them. Shimon, I know that you’re
pleased to have two very dear friends to help
celebrate this evening. President Bill Clinton. (applause) And our outstanding Secretary
of State, Hillary Clinton. (applause) Ladies and gentlemen,
President Shimon Peres. (applause) President Peres:
Mr. President, Mrs. Obama, it’s
so hard to speak after you, my God. (laughter) You are so moving. But thank you. (laughter) I really was profoundly 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. (applause) It is a testament to the
historic friendship between our two nations. When I was really
young — not like now — (laughter) — 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. (Applause.) 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 doesn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 shouldn’t 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. (applause) 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. (applause) 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. (applause) 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. (applause) 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. (applause) 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. (applause)

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