I’m delighted to report that Pres. Obama has honored international human rights campaigner Mary Robinson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. There was a campaign waged by the pro-Israel lobby to derail her nomination calling her anti-Israel and other scurrilous, unfounded epithets. But the president stayed true to his convictions and honored her along with 15 other deserving recipients including Sidney Poitier, Desmond Tutu, Steven Hawking, Sandra Day O’Connor, Harvey Milk (posthumously) and Ted Kennedy.
The Irish Times wrote about Robinson’s honor:
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has hailed former president Mary Robinson as “an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored” who is showing the way to a better future for the world.
Presenting Mrs Robinson with the Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian honour, Mr Obama suggested that her family background may have helped to prepare her for life as a civil rights campaigner.
“The only girl in a family of four brothers, Mary Robinson learned early on what it takes to make sure all voices are heard. As a crusader for women and those without a voice in Ireland, Mary Robinson was the first woman elected President of Ireland, before being appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” he said.
“When she travelled abroad as president, she would place a light in her window that would draw people of Irish descent to pass by below. Today, as an advocate for the hungry and the hunted, the forgotten and the ignored, Mary Robinson has not only shone a light on human suffering, but illuminated a better future for our world.”
Her award citation read:
“For Mary Robinson, the fight to end discrimination and suffering is an urgent moral imperative. 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,” the citation said.
“Whether courageously visiting conflict-stricken regions, or working to inject concern for human rights into business and economic development, Mary Robinson continues this important work today, urging citizens and nations to make common cause for justice.”
Kol hakavod lach (“more power to you”), Mary Robinson. I reported yesterday that seven Israeli human rights NGOs lauded Robinson’s career and her right to the award. James Wolfensohn and Ruth Messinger joined in supporting her.
Among the reprobates who have hectored and fulminated about her award are such moral luminaries as John Bolton, Gerald Steinberg, Abe Foxman, Mort Klein, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Elliot Engel and 45 Republican members of Congress. A veritable rogues’ gallery of the Jewish right. With naysayers like this, you know you’re right. When any one of them has done 1/100th of what Robinson has done on behalf of the world’s poor and displaced then they can begin to talk. Till then, they oughta give it a rest.
Correction: Rupa Shah notes that I erroneously credited Robinson with oversight of UNWRA as part of her responsibilities as UNHCR high commissioner. But the two are entirely separate agencies.
bernard g says
I confess I have been surprised by the virulence with which the usual suspects have gone for Robinson, given the immense popularity she has among Irish and I assume Irish-American people and the pride that is felt in her achievement by those people. It seems odd to offend a rather powerful grouping in this way, they could just have left this as it is hardly of major political significance. Is this another sign that the lobby may be losing its bearings?
Rupa Shah says
Mr Silverstein, if I may, Mrs Robinson was not at UNHCR ( United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She was at OHCHR ( Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights ). A certain group of individuals and some organizations/govt are critical of her because of her stand at the UN Conference against Racism Durban 1.
Richard Silverstein says
Once again, thanks for correcting my mistake, Rupa.
To generalize here, there’s a pretty notable gulf between the Irish (proper) and Irish-Americans when it comes to critical discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think a lot of/most Irish-Americans are totally unaware of how much sympathy there is for the Palestinians in Ireland and how much mainstream criticism of Israel there is, as well, in the “mother” country.
But agree with you, bernard, trashing a well-loved around the globe Irish-person is not very savvy politics in America. It does strike me that the Israel lobby is becoming more and more tone deaf to this stuff in its little bouts of hysteria.
Jonathan Cutler says
[comment deleted for violation of comment rules]
I am pleased that Mary Robinson got this award. I don’t think her stance is anti Israel, it’s pro human rights.
It is indeed unfortunate that people point fingers and accuse human rights campaigners of being racists.
If people get annoyed about having their human rights violations pointed out, then the activists are doing their job properly.
I lived in Ireland when she was president, and she was a great president, the first woman president we had, and we haver since had another one.