President Barack Obama formally bestowed the nation's highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- on visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres late Wednesday. Peres thanked Obama and said Israel supports his policy on Iran.
Guests at a gala dinner in Peres's honor included Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, Bill and Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, as well as Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel. Dalia Rabin, daughter of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was also present.
Peres invoked the memory of Nazi Germany's efforts to exterminate European Jews, and warned that in a new age "the danger is today concentrated in Iran," whose leaders "bring darkness to a world longing for light."
"They are trying to build a nuclear bomb," he said. "It is our responsibility to our own people, to our friends throughout the world, to posterity, that the Iranian threat must be stopped, and it cannot be delayed."
"Mr President, you worked so hard to build a world coalition to meet this immediate threat," said Peres. "You started, rightly, with economic sanctions. You made it clear -- rightly, again -- that all options are on the table. Clearly, we support you and your policy." Obama paid tribute to his guests's political resilience in 65 years of serving his country.
"He has been counted out more than once. But in him we see the essence of Israel itself -- an indomitable spirit that will not be denied," Obama said. "I think President Clinton would agree with me on this -- Shimon Peres is the ultimate 'Comeback Kid.'"
Obama, who himself faces an uphill fight to reelection, has seen his support among Jewish voters slip between his historic 2008 campaign and 2012. While his 64%-29% edge over Romney is robust, it's also off ten points from his 74%-23% over McCain four years ago.
Republicans have accused Obama of short-changing Israeli security and being weak on Iran. Top Israeli officials have said military and intelligence ties have never been stronger.
"The security of the State of Israel is non-negotiable, and the bonds between us are unbreakable," Obama stressed Wednesday.
On May 29, Obama awarded the presidential of freedom to music icon Bob Dylan, former astronaut John Glenn (the first American in space), best-selling novelist Toni Morrison, and 10 others.
The other honorees included Albright, former Justice Department official John Doar, a pivotal civil rights movement figure; William Foege, a doctor and epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox in the 1970s; the late Gordon Hirabayashi, who openly denounced the World War II-era internment of Japanese-Americans; farm worker union pioneer Dolores Huerta; the late Jan Karski, who fought the Nazis as a member of the Polish Underground and warned the world about the Holocaust; Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, who died in 1927;Israeli President Shimon Peres, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, and Pat Summitt, college basketball's winningest coach and a crusader against Alzheimer's.