US President Barack Obama has defended his decision to honor Ireland's former president, Mary Robinson, with a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award for Robinson, the highest the U.S. can bestow on a civilian, has been bitterly attacked by the influential Israeli lobbying group AIPAC.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has slammed Obama saying she is hostile and biased against Israel.

AIPAC said it was "deeply disappointed" with the decision and called on the administration to "firmly, fully and publicly repudiate her views on Israel and her long public record of hostility and one-sided bias against the Jewish state."

However, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, said that while Obama may not agree with all of her statements, she was being honored for her advocacy for women's rights in Ireland and around the world.

"Look, Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland, and she is somebody whom we are honouring as a prominent crusader of women's rights in Ireland and throughout the world," Gibbs said.

"There are statements that obviously she has made that the President doesn't agree with and that's probably true for a number of the people that the president is recognizing for their lifetime contributions."

AIPAC was not the first Jewish organisation to criticise Robinson's honor, and cited a list of instances in which it said she demonstrated her "dishonorable role in the Durbandebacle".

The former Bush administration walked out of the 2001 conference in Durban, complaining Israel was the target of abuse.

Robinson is due to receive the award at a White House reception on August 12.