Ron Radosh

The Robinson "Medal of Freedom" Fiasco: When will the Democrats Speak Out?

For the past few days, the announcement that Barack Obama would award a Presidential Medal of Freedom to former President of the Irish Republic, Mary Robinson, has created a storm of controversy that is not dying down. The main question that must be asked is whether the expose of Robinson as a long-time opponent of Israel and as the enthusiastic convener of Durban II, despite its open anti-Semitism and the withdrawal from the conference of the United States, will lead many Democrats, as well as Jewish supporters of Obama, to reconsider their once enthusiastic support.


Yesterday, AIPAC, usually non-partisan and not prone to comment on appointments—it stayed mum on the Charles Freeman affair months ago—issued a statement indicating that it was “deeply disappointed by the Obama administration’s choice to award a President Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson,” and called upon the administration “to firmly, fully and publicly repudiate her views on Israel and her long public record of hostility and one-sided bias against the Jewish state.”

AIPAC is correct in its description of Robinson. UN Watch documented this extensively. They wrote:

Should Mary Robinson be awarded the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom for being an “agent of change”?In March 2004, we noted that, “Whatever her accomplishments, Mary Robinson’s legacy will be forever entwined with Durban’s racism-turned-racist conference that disgraced the UN.”In the words of the late Tom Lantos, U.S. delegate to the conference and founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus: “To many of us present at the events at Durban, it is clear that much of the responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who, in her role as secretary-general of the conference, failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track.”Lantos thoroughly documented her counter-productive acts of omission and commission in the vital lead-up process.


To even consider Robinson “an agent of change,” supposedly what Obama is giving the recipients this year’s award for, is obscene. Again, it remains for Marty Peretz, whom we all know was once an enthusiastic supporter of Obama during the campaign, to put this nomination in stark perspective.  Despite her accomplishments as Ireland’s chief, he writes, “It has been downhill ever since, a good deal of it in the gutter of anti-Semitism.” Peretz continues:

She was the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights when the commission began to specialize in the practice of supporting governmental repression and calling it freedom–as, frankly, Obama has done with the burqa, also in Cairo. But Robinson’s biggest role on the world stage was as chair of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban.  She planned it, she mostly ran it and she is responsible for that Witch’s Sabbath of hate against both Israel and America, actually the west and western values in general and in particular. Since then, she has been doing the time-consuming NGO thing, talking mostly to one another and soliciting grants from American foundations.

 Robinson, responding to her critics, said in a widely reprinted quote, “There’s a lot of bullying by certain elements of the Jewish community. They bully people who try to address the severe situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Archbishop Desmond Tutu gets the same criticism.”  In other words—to make solid criticism of her irresponsibility is “bullying.” And to say that Archbisop Tutu also gets similar criticism hardly lets her off the hook.


Only Peretz so far as I can tell, has had the courage to point out that the fabled Archbishop has been for decades a fierce opponent of Israel. As Peretz puts it, “He is one of those many people who seems to have a tic about or a tic against the Jews.” I suspect this animosity came from the long years of the struggle against apartheid, when the ANC due to its alliance with the Communists in South Africa and the Soviet Union, took the line that Israel was an imperialist tool of the United States. But because Tutu’s reputation comes from his fight against apartheid- a justified stance- he has received no criticism for his virulent anti-Israel views. So he too will be a recipient of the Medal of Freedom.

That is why, as our colleague Jennifer Rubin pointed out, the response of Rep. Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, is so unusual and heartening. In answer to Rubin’s question to Engel about his views on the award, he forthrightly said that it “was obviously a mistake.” She should not receive the award, he told Rubin, and he even equated her moral equivalence with the posturing of “the far Left.”

Up to now, Rep. Engel seems, among Democrats, to stand alone. Where is his colleague from New York, Anthony Weiner, whose press rep would not return my call. Where is New York’s Senator Charles Schumer? Both have been good on these issues. Recently, Weiner released a tough statement on the need of the Palestinians to end their anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda in their school textbooks. So why aren’t these pro-Israel New York members of Congress making a public statement about Mary Robinson?


 When will they and others have the courage to step forward and speak out? We are waiting for the answer.

addendum: August 5, 2009 — Washington, D.C.)  Congresswoman Shelley Berkley today expressed her concern regarding past comments and biased actions directed at the State of Israel by Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Mary Robinson. Berkley said:  “The biased views expressed by Mary Robinson against the nation of Israel remain deeply troubling and her tarnished record of actions on this issue cannot be erased with the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  This includes her role in the U.N.’s infamous Durban Conference, the scene of highly-charged anti-Jewish attacks against Israel and its supporters.  Mary Robinson’s one-sided criticism of Israel and her actions while serving as a U.N. commissioner deserve to be condemned and I add my voice to those already expressing concern about her shameful record when it comes to this issue.  I respectfully request that the President of the United States reassess the awarding of this prestigious medal to a woman with such a blatant record of inappropriate and inexplicable bias against America’s most reliable ally — and the region’s only democracy — the State of Israel.”

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