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Shimon Peres, Madeleine Albright and Jan Karski win the Medal of Freedom

Presidential Medal of Freedom

Bob Dylan isn’t the only name on the list of 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients with ties to the Jewish community. Also among
the 13 winners of the highest civilian honor in the United States are Israeli President Shimon Peres, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and Jan Karski, an officer of the Polish Underground during World War II who received the medal posthumously.

Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres
 was cited by President Obama as “an ardent advocate for Israel’s security and for peace.” A former prime minister of the Jewish state (1984-1986 and 1995-1996), Shimon Peres was elected the ninth President of Israel in 2007.  Along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his work as Foreign Minister during the Middle East peace talks that led to the Oslo Accords. Speaking at the AIPAC policy conference in March, Obama said “In his life, [Shimon Peres] has fought for Israel’s independence, and he has fought for peace and security. As a member of the Haganah and a member of the Knesset; as a minister of defense and foreign affairs; as a prime minister and as a president – Shimon helped build the nation that thrives today: the Jewish state of Israel. But beyond these extraordinary achievements, he has also been a powerful moral voice that reminds us that right makes might – not the other way around.”
After the list of the recipients was announced in March, a group of activists circulated a petition demanding that Peres refuse to accept the award unless convicted spy Jonathan Pollard was released. Since then, several bereaved families have asked Peres to take advantage of his visit to Washington to accept the award to lobby Obama for Pollard’s release, Israel Hayom reported. Among those signing the letter were Yehuda and Esther Waxman, the parents of Nachshon Waxman, who was kidnapped and killed by Palestinian terrorists in 1994, Ruhama Raz, whose sister Miriam was killed in 1989 when terrorists caused a bus to breach guard rails along the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway and fall dozens of meters, and Ron Kerman, who lost his daughter, Tal, in a 2003 bus bombing in Haifa.

US President Barack Obama presents former secretary of state Madeleine Albright with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony on May 29, 2012 in the East Room of the White House in Washington. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages

Madeleine Albright served as the Secretary of State
from 1997 to 2001, under President Bill Clinton. She was the first woman to hold that position.  “During her tenure, she worked to enlarge NATO and helped lead the Alliance’s campaign against terror and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, pursued peace in the Middle East and Africa, sought to reduce the dangerous spread of nuclear weapons, and was a champion of democracy, human rights, and good governance across the globe,” noted a statement released by the White House. Albright, who was raised Christian, learned in 1997 that her parents were in fact Jewish.  She recently published a book tracing her family’s Jewish heritage and the fate of relatives who perished in the Holocaust.  Albright chairs the National Democratic Institute and is President of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation.

Jan Karski

Jan Karski, who served as an officer in the Polish Underground during World War II, was among the first to provide eyewitness accounts of Nazi Germany’s murder of the Jews. Karski, who died in 2000, was cited by President Obama as being among the Righteous of the Nations. “Among them was Jan Karski,” a young Polish Catholic who witnessed Jews being put on cattle cars, who saw the killings, and who told the truth, all the way to President Roosevelt himself.” said Obama in a speech given at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. in April. An article about Jan Karski appears on in the Opinion section of this issue.

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