Merkel and Peres
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Shimon Peres (archive) Photo by Moshe Milner / GPO
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel received Israel's highest civilian honor Tuesday afternoon for her "unwavering commitment" to the country.

President Shimon Peres awarded Merkel with the Presidential Medal of Distinction in a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem.

Merkel was given the award – comparable to France's Legion d'Honneur or Washington's Presidential Medal of Freedom – for "standing by" Israel and her fight against anti-Semitism and racism.

Past recipients of the medal include U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.S. president Bill Clinton and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, as well as Israel Philharmonic Orchestra director Zubin Mehta and Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Elie Wiesel.

The medal features the North Star (to symbolize the "right path") and a seven-branched menorah or Jewish candelabrum - the symbol of Israel - inscribed with the phrase "From his shoulders and upward," from the Book of Samuel 9:2.

Open both to Israeli citizens and noncitizens, Peres selects candidates along with a committee that includes professors, a Supreme Court judge, a former president and a rabbi.

Merkel received the award during her visit to Israel with fellow government members.

Earlier Tuesday, the Israeli and German governments held a joint cabinet session – the fifth since the almost annual practice was established in 2008 – at which the sides formally launched preparations for the 50th anniversary celebrations in 2015 of Germany-Israel diplomatic relations.