“You are an inspiration for those who seek peace and those who seek understanding between nations and peoples,” President Shimon Peres told former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the opening gala of the annual Presidential Conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Peres presented Kissinger with the Presidential Award of Distinction for “his significant contribution to the State of Israel and to humanity.”
“I am old enough to know that people are no less important than ideas,” Peres said at the conference. “The world has learned to say thank you and the time has come for us as well to thank great people who have served as examples for the younger generation so that we might pass on the message that every person can be as great as his deeds and his ideas.”
"You were able to understand strength without being paralyzed by its awesome power," Peres told Kissinger, with whom he has shared a long-standing friendship. "You turned power into a strategy for peace."
“This award, while being delivered from my hands, comes from the hearts of my people. I feel that I am handing it not to a friend, but to a brother,” the Israeli president said.
Kissinger was seemingly moved by Peres' words, saying, "My parents would be more proud of this honor than any of the other honors that have come my way."
Kissinger spoke about Israel, saying that it is "in many respects an island of stability and of domestic cohesion at a moment of upheaval everywhere else, although you couldn’t necessarily prove that from debates going on sometimes in the Knesset."
In comments that seemed to be directed at both Israelis and Palestinians, Kissinger said, "The recognition of a state is the beginning of peace; it is not the end of peace."
Kissinger, whose family moved from Germany to New York in 1938 fleeing Nazi persecution, served as the U.S. Secretary of State under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. In 1973, he negotiated between Israel and the neighboring Arab nations to bring the Yom Kippur War to an end. In the same year, Kissinger received the Nobel Peace Prize for helping achieve a cease-fire in the Vietnam War and the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Kissinger also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then U.S. President Gerald Ford, the same medal U.S. President Barack Obama awarded to Peres last week.
Tuesday's opening gala and award ceremony on behalf of Kissinger was also met with criticism, as several right-wing activists slammed a decision by the Presidential Conference's organizers to invite controversial journalist Peter Beinart to the event. Beinart's book "The Crisis of Zionism" has caused a stir for calling for a boycott of settlement products.
"If the committee [that organized the conference] chose to invite Beinart, they might as well have invited one of the Satmar Hasidim, who have been seen hugging Ahmadinejad," said MK Aryeh Aldad (National Union). The Presidential Conference organizing committee responded by saying, "We do not shy away from dealing with controversial issues that need to be further discussed."