WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration is set to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a controversial former United Nations official.
Mary Robinson headed a notorious 2001 U.N. conference on racism that was widely condemned as anti-Semitic.
Now, some are questioning why President Obama would bestow the nation's highest civilian honor on someone who has been accused of anti-Israel bias.
Obama has taken heat for advocating policies that critics say are hostile to Israel. His celebration of Robinson’s career may only add more fuel to that growing fire.
Robinson was Ireland's first female president, but she may be better known for her former work as the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Throughout her career, she has been a frequent critic of Israel and the United States, and some say she does not deserve America's highest civilian honor.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is vice president of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington. He says Robinson's stance on Israel is enough to draw concern.
"She certainly indulges in a great amount of moral equivalency, describing Israel as basically the equivalent of the Palestinian terrorists who have genocidal ambitions against the Jews," he explained.
When she was President of Ireland, Robinson channeled a large amount of money to the Palestinian Authority that ended up being used in terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.
Robinson was also the architect of the U.N.'s 2001 conference on racism in Durban, South Africa. The U.S. and Israel walked out of the conference, which descended into what many have described as an anti-Semitic hate fest.
The late Democratic congressman Tom Lantos once said that, "much of the responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders of... Mary Robinson, who, in her role as secretary-general of the conference, failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track."
"She refused to reject the twisted notion that the wrong done to the Jews in the Holocaust was equivalent to the pain suffered by the Palestinians in the Middle East," he continued.
Robinson, however, has praised the Durban conference as a success, and the Obama administration is defending its decision to honor her.
"Mary Robinson was the first female president of Ireland and she is somebody whom we're honoring as a prominent crusader of of women's rights in Ireland and throughout the world," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. "There are statements that obviously she has made the president doesn't agree with and that's probably true for a number of the people the president is recognizing for their lifetime contributions."
Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel has called President Obama's decision to honor Robinson a poor choice, saying she personifies everything wrong with the United Nations.
Robinson is scheduled to receive the presidential medal, along with 15 other recipients, on Aug. 12.
*Originally published August 5, 2009