Photo and video credit, Shmuel Lenchevsky\Dov Lenchevsky
Peres Gold Medal An Affirmation of US-Israel Relationship
The presentation of a Congressional Gold Medal to outgoing Israeli president Shimon Peres last week was more than just an opportunity to honor Peres for his many contributions over his nearly seven decades of leadership; it was also a public pronouncement of the solidarity that exists between the United States and Israel.
Seeing Peres accorded the highest civilian honor in the United States was a triumphant moment for Robert Rechnitz and Lee Samson, co-chairmen of the Peres Congressional Gold Medal Committee. While neither Rechnitz, a close confidante of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, nor Samson, a highly regarded member of the Jewish community who rarely seeks the limelight, are normally affiliated with any projects relating to Peres as a political figure, both were eager to embrace an effort that clearly showed that the congressional support of Israel is both bi-partisan and non-negotiable.
“This is a public affirmation of the unbreakable bond which not only exists, but indeed flourishes, between the United States and Israel and can never be weakened,” Rechnitz told VIN News.
“For Israel’s president to receive the Congressional Gold Medal sends a message to the world that the Congress stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel,” added Ezra Friedlander, CEO of The Friedlander Group, who initiated the movement to have Congress honor Peres for his accomplishments.
Peres is the first sitting Israeli president to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela are the only other foreign heads of state to have been honored by Congress with the prestigious award.
The introduction of the legislation honoring Peres was timed to coincide with the Israeli president’s 90th birthday, casting the spotlight on Peres, a close disciple of David Ben-Gurion, and the only living member of Israel’s founding generation of political figures.
“This was not about political leanings, whether left or right, but instead about a great Jewish leader who has brought honor to Israel in the eyes of the world and that is what’s important during these difficult times,” observed Rechnitz.
Lee Samson described the gold medal presentation as an unforgettable moment, with leaders of the House, Senate and Vice President speaking glowingly about the unique relationship between the United States and Israel.
“Each expressed that the bonds that were forged when the United States was the first country in the world to recognize the independent Jewish State of Israel will remain steadfast forever,” said Samson. “ One of the highlights of the ceremony was the presentation of the colors, with six American flags marched in with pomp and ceremony, followed by a single Israeli flag, positioned next to the U.S. Marine Corps Choir, right in front of the mural of George Washington astride his horse. The choir sang Hatikvah and the sound reverberated in the rotunda as each of our eyes welled up with the sense of the historic importance of the moment.”
The opportunity to take part in a congressional ceremony honoring the president of Israel was an emotional one for Rechnitz, the son of Holocaust survivors.
“To be standing in the Capitol rotunda with Jewish music playing was very moving,” said Rechnitz. “It was an incredible opportunity to witness firsthand the respect and support that Congress has for Israel.”
The movement to honor Peres began in August 2013, with Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Democratic Senator Michael Bennett of Colorado introducing legislation to recognize Peres for his decades-long role in cementing the close alliance between the United States and Israel, with similar legislation brought in the House of Representatives by Republican Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona and Democratic Congressman Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts. The legislation passed the House in March, was unanimously approved by the Senate in May, and was signed by President Obama on June 9th.
“We reached out multiple times to every member of the House and Senate, all 535 of them, to secure their co-sponsorships and upon securing the requisite amount, the leadership of both houses brought it to the floor for a vote,” said Stanley Treitel of Los Angeles, who noted that at no point in time during the process was the Israeli government involved. “The success of our effort is due to the team effort of members of the Peres Congressional Gold Medal Committee.”
Senator Ayotte was introduced by the Miami based businessman, Simon Falic, who recalled a personal anecdote about having President Peres as his shadchen; she praised Peres as a man who has spent decades championing the cause of justice.
“I cannot think of a more deserving person to receive the Congressional Gold Medal than President Shimon Peres,” said Senator Ayotte. “As one of the founding fathers of Israel, for 67 years, President Peres has been a selfless servant of his beloved country during times of war and peace. Providing a steady hand, he has been a constant and passionate voice for peace, but most of all not only is he a great leader, he is a man who has a pure heart and the depth of his love for all humanity has made him a drum major for justice not just in Israel but throughout the world.”
“President Peres is a true icon of peace, who supports the vision of peace but with security,” added Rabbi David Baron, chairman of the clergy cabinet of the Peres Congressional Gold Medal Committee.
“I was privileged to be able to advocate for this historic initiative”-said Ron Plotkin a major leader in the Republican Jewish Coalition and close personal friend with Speaker John Boehner.
The committee featured prominent leader in the Sephardic community, Jack Avital, who facilitated Qatari businessman and philanthropist, Hassan Ali Bin Ali, as International Chairman. Mr. Bin Ali who remarked “President Peres is the first sitting President of Israel to receive this most prestigious award, which is the highest civilian award in the United States. Over many years, much positive opinion has been expressed and recorded about his exemplary leadership and his dedicated career in public service; a career that will serve as a beacon for future leaders to follow and aspire to. “
Peres honored Samson and Rechnitz with the US-Israel Advocacy Leadership Award in recognition of their efforts to publicly strengthen the bond between the United States and Israel, presented at a Washington ceremony one day before receiving his own award.