Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor being awarded to President of the United States Joe Biden
Credit: Haim Zach, GPO
The award regulations state that the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor may be awarded to individuals or organizations that meet at least one of the following standards, through either a one-off endeavor or ongoing activity: “The candidate has made a unique contribution to the State of Israel or to tikkun olam, or has left a mark on society in his field of endeavor or accomplishments; the candidate has elevated the status of the State of Israel and made a unique contribution to its global image; the candidate serves as an example and role model of initiative, innovation, creativity, and vision.”
The award was the initiative of the Ninth President of the State of Israel, the late Shimon Peres, in 2012. During the Peres Presidency, the award was bestowed on twenty-six individuals, including United States President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Nobel Prize Laureate Eli Wiesel, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.
After a period in which the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor was not awarded under the Tenth President, Reuven Rivlin (2014-2021), President Isaac Herzog decided to renew the tradition, and the public was invited to submit nominations for the award. President Herzog appointed an advisory committee, headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Prof. Yoram Danziger to consider nominations for prize laureates.
Credit: Haim Zach, GPO
Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom, GPO
The award was designed by the esteemed artist Yossi Matityahu. It is round gold medal, featuring Ursa Minor topped by the North Star in combination with the Menorah. At the top of the medal are the words (in Hebrew) “Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor,” and at the bottom: “head and shoulders above” (I Samuel 9:2). On the ten-year anniversary of the establishment of the award, and in honor of Israel’s 75th Independence Day, the Office of the President commissioned a new design for the medal, to be selected by a professional committee.
Since President Isaac Herzog entered office, the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor has been awarded to two national leaders. During his state visit to the Czech Republic, President Herzog awarded the medal to Czech President Miloš Zeman. In the committee’s reasoning, it noted President Zeman’s deep friendship with Israel, his consistent support for Israel on the international stage, and his “zero tolerance” policy toward terrorism and antisemitism.
U.S. President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., was awarded the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor by President Herzog during his visit to Israel in 2022. President Biden was awarded the medal in recognition of his “true friendship with the State of Israel, the people of Israel, and the Jewish People; his uncompromising decades-long commitment to Israel’s security; his contributions to deepening, strengthening, and enhancing the strong and unwavering alliance between Israel and the United States of America; and his struggle against anti-Israeli and antisemitic hatred around the world.”
Soon after Israel’s independence, the Guardian-General in the Ministry of Justice was empowered to handle such bequests and donations. The financial data is transferred once a year to a public committee (the Estates Committee), which puts out a public call for applications for support. In accordance with its protocols and donors’ wishes, and in a transparent and egalitarian manner, the committee decides on beneficiaries for funding.
The scholarship fund established in 2013, in partnership with the committee, is a means of promoting scientific excellence in Israel. The President’s Scholarships for Excellence and Scientific Innovation are awarded to twelve outstanding Israeli doctoral students with the aim of fostering high-quality academic research, incentivizing scholarly activity, and promoting scientific excellence and innovation in Israel. In recent years, scholarships have been awarded to researchers from the social sciences and humanities, out of a desire to strengthen and deepen research in these fields.
The protocols of the fund state that the annual theme is selected by the President. Every year, the Office of the President forms an academic committee dedicated that annual theme, in which the finest scholars and academics in that field select the most promising and outstanding young researchers in Israel. The scholarships committee comprises seven scholars of renown in the field of each year’s theme, alongside a representative of the Estates Committee and a representative of the Office of the President. This professional committee evaluates the scientific excellence of the candidates, the inventiveness and originality of their research projects, their academic achievements, previous publications, and recommendations of leading instructors and scholars in their field.
Nowadays, the President’s Scholarships for Excellence and Scientific Innovation, which amount to 150,000 NIS for each scholar, are considered the best and most competitive in Israel.
The deadline for 2023 applications has passed.
The President’s Scholarship Fund for Excellence and Scientific Innovation was first launched in 2013 under President Shimon Peres and disbursed:
During the Rivlin Presidency, the fund disbursed:
During the Herzog Presidency, the fund has so far disbursed:
The award is an expression of the President’s aspiration to foster values of social involvement, giving, mutual responsibility, and love of one’s fellow humans and the Land of Israel. The award is granted in cooperation with the National Council for Volunteerism in Israel, and in 2023, it was awarded for the 49th time in a special ceremony marking 75 years of the State of Israel.
The award salutes young and old people, secular and religious citizens, and Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Israel, and encourages them to exercise responsibility for each other. All residents of the State of Israel and organizations active in Israel are entitled to nominate themselves or others.
Over the years, the Presidential Award for Volunteerism has served as an example for foreign presidents wanting to encourage volunteerism in their own countries. Staffers working for U.S. President George H.W. Bush, for example, who learned about the Presidential Award for Volunteerism from the Office of the President of Israel, established a similar enterprise, which recognizes outstanding volunteers in the United States.
In his first year presenting the award, President Isaac Herzog decided that he would dedicate it to “persons working to advance partnership and solidarity, for the sake of individuals, society, and their surroundings, with the aim of creating an exemplary society in the State of Israel.” This theme was selected in the spirit of the President’s inaugural address, in which he said: “…we must stop seeing the differences between us as obstacles. They are the source of our strength. It is thanks to them that Israel’s power is given full expression. After all, we would not be who we are without the immense human and intellectual diversity that came together here. That mosaic made up of uniquely Israeli qualities: the sense of family, resourcefulness, and optimism, the principles of justice and solidarity, compassion and mutual responsibility—the building blocks of a model society…Let us reaffirm, every day anew, our choice of us. Let us choose to win together, not just to beat each other. Let us choose to be gracious, to extinguish the flames of hatred with the unique Israeli spirit, to foster love for our fellow citizens. Let us choose to be united not only in our principles and values, but also our hopes and dreams.”
In a video message released on the eve of International Volunteer Day, and as part of his invitation for nominations for the award, the President added: “Volunteering is a supreme social value. Volunteering means giving, for the sake of the other; volunteering builds a healthy country. This is an opportunity to consider volunteering ‘our highest joy’ (Psalms: 137).”
In order to consider nominations for the award, the President is assisted by an advisory committee, which makes recommendations about the nominees. The committee comprises ten members drawn from different parts of the world of volunteering—public officials, social figures, academics, and journalists who represent all sections of Israeli society.