Robinson rejects pro-Israeli criticism of award

FORMER President of Ireland Mary Robinson has hit back at pro-Israeli critics of her selection as recipient of a US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Ms Robinson served as United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees during the 2001 Durban Conference against racism and was seen by Jewish leaders as not taking enough action to deter the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel actions at the conference.

She was also seen as a tough critic of Israel’s use of force against the Palestinians during her term in office.

Since it was announced she was to receive the medal, the highest civilian honour in the United States, pro-Israeli lobby groups in the US have publicly criticised her selection.

However, speaking over the weekend Ms Robinson defended her role in the Durban Conference.

“[The criticism] does not completely surprise me. It is totally without foundation. I am extremely proud [of the conference]. It was the third attempt to have the conference and was the first to be successful. In the final document there was not one word of anti-semitism.

“That was a great tribute to South Africa as the chair, to the European Union for staying when the United States and Israel left and I had a tough role as Secretary General.

“I actually rejected the civil society document because it still contained anti- semitic comments and yet for some reason a few people have poisoned the air on that.”

Ms Robinson will receive the medal at a ceremony on August 12.

“I will meet the various people (also receiving a medal). It will be an interesting gathering,” she said.

Among the other 15 recipients are US Senator Edward Kennedy, South African human rights campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, physicist Stephen Hawking, former supreme court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, actor Sidney Poitier and tennis player Billie Jean King.

“You don’t achieve what brings this type of recognition without the help and support of a lot of people,” added Ms Robinson.

“There are many who share in this. It is also an honour for Ireland. I don’t think anyone else from Ireland has been honoured in this way before.”

The White House said of Ms Robinson: “She continues to bring attention to international issues as honorary president of Oxfam International and chairs the board of Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations.”

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