Medal Recipient has Controversial Views on Israel

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President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 people on Wednesday. It's the nation's highest civilian honor.
    
The president said this year's recipients were chosen for their work as "agents of change."

The diverse group includes politicians past and present - a former U.S. Supreme Court justice, two clergyman, athletes, actors, and activists.

But there is controversy surrounding one of the recipients. Her name is Mary Robinson and she is a former Irish president and United Nations official.

Click play for analysis of Mary Robinson's past with James Kerchick of The New Republic journal

Shaky Record on Israel
    
Past Presidential Medals of Freedom have gone to such great Americans as Neil Armstrong and Jesse Owens, and to foreign dignitaries such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. 

But the Obama administration's choice of Robinson for America's highest civilian honor ran into opposition and some astonishment among Republicans and Democrats.
    
Forty-five members of Congress sent a letter to Obama about Robinson stating, "While we are aware of her achievements, they are outweighed by her failed, biased record."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lithenen, R-Fla., called Robinson "the poster child for the anti-Israel bias that pervades the U.N. system."

"The concern on Mary Robinson is her stance on Israel," explained Middle East expert Daveed Gartenstein Ross.

Ross said her questionable actions date back to her time Ireland's chief executive.

"When she was president of Ireland, she channeled a large amount of money to the Palestinian Authority, which ended up being used in terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians," Ross said.

Anti-Semitic Hate-Fest?

At the U.N., Robinson was the architect of the controversial 2001 U.N. Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. Many described that gathering as an anti-Semitic hate-fest. Both the U.S. and Israel walked out.

One of the qualifications for the Presidential Medal is someone who makes a contribution to "the security or national interests of the United States." But her critics call Robinson anti-American, and she has frequently sided against United States policy.

Still, the White House says it's awarding Robinson because of her work for women's rights.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "The president is recognizing her for her leadership on women's rights and equal rights. As I've said before, he doesn't agree with each of her statements, but she's certainly someone who should be honored."

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