Thursday, March 21, 2013

Israel State Dinner: President Peres Awards President Obama The Presidential Medal Of Distinction

President Obama is "deeply moved,' and accepts Israel's highest honor "on behalf of the American people"...
In the candlelit and lily-filled banquet hall of his Jerusalem residence, President Shimon Peres of Israel on Thursday night honored President Obama with a State Dinner, and awarded him the Presidential Medal of Distinction.  The last of the country's founding statesmen paid a heartfelt tribute to "Dear Barack" as he bestowed Israel's highest honor, and thanked him for the "historic" first foreign trip of his second term.

The Medal was awarded, President Peres said, for President Obama's steadfast support for Israel and his commitment to promoting human rights, democracy, and peace around the globe.

"This award speaks to you, to your tireless work to make Israel strong, to make peace possible," President Peres said as he stood at a podium back dropped by Israel and US flags, speaking to about 120 guests who included the US and Israel diplomatic delegations, newly appointed Israeli Cabinet Ministers, heads of the military, dignitaries, and religious leaders clad in traditional garb.

"Your presidency has given the closest ties between Israel and the United States a new height, a sense of intimacy, a vision for the future," President Peres said.

He spoke of the decades of violence and war that have threatened Israel, and the continuing threat from Iran, which, he said, "is the greatest danger to world peace."  Just that morning, President Peres noted, "several rockets were shot from the Gaza Strip towards civilian targets in Israel."

Thus, "the people of Israel are particularly moved by your unforgettable contribution to their security," President Peres said.  

"You exemplify the spirit of democracy by striving for justice and equality and opportunity in the American society," President Peres said.  

"As the world has now become global and yet remains individual, and you offer those principles.   You inspired the world with your leadership.  Toda raba, Mr. President.  Toda from a grateful nation to a very great leader."

President Obama was solemn as he bowed his head so President Peres could place the heavy gold Medal on a navy ribbon around his neck, and accepted it "on behalf of the American people" after receiving an ovation from the gathering.

"This is a extraordinary honor for me and I could not be more deeply moved,"  President Obama said.

"After the incredible welcome I’ve received over the past two days and the warmth of the Israeli people, the tribute from President Peres, the honor of this medal--I mean, as you say, dayenu." 

President Obama pointed to the story of the Jewish people's rise from slavery to freedom as an inspiration for people around the globe: "I am mindful that I stand here tonight because of so many others, including the example and the sacrifices of the Jewish people," he said.  

"That includes Jewish Americans but also African Americans, who so often had to deal with their own challenges, with whom you have stood shoulder to shoulder."

President Obama spent Thursday wooing both Israeli and Palestinian citizens with a packed schedule of events in Jerusalem and Ramallah, where he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.  During what the White House dubbed the centerpiece speech of his visit, to more than 2,000 Israeli citizens at the Jerusalem International Convention Center, President Obama had reaffirmed "that the United States remains committed to realizing the vision of two states."

"All things are possible, even those things that in moments of darkness and doubt may seem elusive," President Obama said as he accepted the Medal, in an apparent reference to the peace process.  

The two Nobel Laureates have met multiple before at the White House, including when President Obama honored President Peres with a formal White House dinner last June and presented him with the Medal of Freedom.  On the Presidents planted a young White House magnolia tree in the garden of Peres' residence, yet another symbol of the relationship between the two nation.
President Peres turns ninety this summer, and President Obama lightened the ceremony by joking about his "extraordinary vitality."  

"Every time I see your President I ask him who his doctor is," he said to laughter.  "We all want to know the secret."

After noting "I’m starting to get pretty good at Hebrew," the President proposed a toast to his host.

"Ad me’ah ve’esrim.  L’chaim!," President Obam said ("until you’re 120 years old, to life!")

President Obama got more laughs after sipping his wine and remarking "Mmm, that's good wine."  

"Actually, we should probably get this out of the photograph," he quipped.  "All these people will say I'm having too much fun in Israel." 

The menu...
Indeed, the President seemed to be having plenty of fun as he sat at the silvery four-seat Head Table that faced the banquet hall, sandwiched between President Peres on his left and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his right, with Mrs. Sara Netanyahu beside Peres. 

The three-course menu, dubbed "local Israeli cuisine,"  opened with a trio of Mediterranean fish and Spring vegetables, followed by a "fillet of beef and lamb chop duet" as the entree (yes, President Obama likes both meats), and finishing with an assortment of fresh fruit and sweets. The full menu, below.

The red and white wines served were both from Flam, a critically acclaimed, family-run boutique  winery in the Judean Hills.  If Israelis are anything like Americans, the winery will have an immediate boost in business thanks to President Obama's imbibing. 

The Barack-Bibi Bromance...
President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu leaned together as they dined, laughing and whispering into each others' ears with their hands over their mouths to prevent lip reading from eagle-eyed observers. After just two days of zipping around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem together, which included a dinner at Netanyahu's residence on Wednesday evening, the President and Prime Minister managed to demolish years of media criticism about their tense and frosty relationship. The Prime Minister's Office tweeted the photo, above, of the Bibi-Barack Bromance on full display at the State Dinner. 

It was just one of many intimate images Netanyahu's office released in the last 48 hours, and President Peres' Office was busy doing the same.  The photos on both Israeli leaders' Twitter pages feature images of President Obama.   When signing the Prime Minitser's guest book on Wednesday, President Obama wrote of the "extraordinary bonds" between Israel and the US, and the two leaders also exchanged carefully selected gifts.

Since becoming the Leader of the Free World, President Obama has met with Prime Minister Netanyahu more times than with any other world leader (ten), a point both mentioned at their joint press conference on Wednesday, and which the White House stressed ahead of the trip.  

The guests...
Guests from the American delegation included Secretary of State John Kerry, Senior Advisors Valerie Jarrett and Dan Pfeiffer, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Press Secretary Jay Carney, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, Counselor to the President Pete Rouse, and US Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), who traveled to Israel with President Obama aboard Air Force One. Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren,   Naftali Bennett, the leader of the religious Jewish Home party, Tzipi Livni , Yair Lapid, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon were also spotted.  The media made much of the presence of the newly crowned Miss Israel 2013, Yityish Aynaw, the first Ethiopian to hold the title, who greeted President Obama(Above, with President Peres). 

Musical performances...
The dinner included two musical performances from acclaimed vocalists.  Iranian-born Israeli pop star Rita, birth name Rita Yahan-Farouz, sang Yerushalayim Shel Zahav ("Jerusalem of Gold") in Hebrew, and blew a kiss to President Obama during her performance.  David D'Or sang Amazing Grace in English, accompanied by an amplified violin, played fiddle-style. D’or sings in a soprano register, and "words can’t do the performance justice, but suffice it to say that his airy tones climbed higher and higher, accompanied by emphatic gesticulation and intent stares into the distance," noted pool.

 The event "was fantastic,” Rep. Engel told pool afterwards.

"It was really good,” Rep. Wasserman-Schultz said. "Peres is the most inspiring speaker. And when I’m sitting there at dinner I felt like I was sitting with my grandfather.” 

President Obama departed the State Dinner at 10:32 PM, and was back at the King David Hotel four minutes later after a speedy motorcade ride.  He is staying at the hotel for the duration of his time in Israel. 

On Friday, the President will tour Jewish and Christian cultural sites with Netanyahu before departing for Amman, Jordan, where he will meet with His Majesty King Abdullah II at the royal place.  He will remain overnight in Jordan, and take a walking tour of the ruins at Petra before returning to Washington on late on Saturday.

*The transcript of the Presidents' remarks and links to all posts about the trip.

President Peres' State Dinner For President Obama

Mediterranean Sea Plate Trio
Seared Tuna, Ceviche, Tomato-based Tower 
in Galilee Olive Oil

Fillet of Beef and Lamb Chop Duet 
On a Potato Tart

Zucchini Flower
Stuffed with Mushroom Medley and Beetroot Foam

Peppedio Pepper
With Cracked Wheat
Fresh Israeli Salad

Spring Plate: Refreshing Fruit
Delightful Eclair
Madghul Date and Kadaiff Pastry in Raw Tahini
Assorted Israeli Sweets

Jerusalem-style infusions and Coffee

Flam, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve - 2010

Flam, Blanc - 2012


Above, a long view of the Medal ceremony as President Obama accepted the award.

*Photos by Office of President Peres