A pro-Israel lobbying group blasted President Obama's decision to grant a top honor to former Irish President Mary Robinson, accusing her of bias against the Jewish state.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee criticized Obama's decision to award Robinson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, citing her role at the UN's Durban Conference on Racism in 2001.

"AIPAC is deeply disappointed by the Obama administration's choice to award a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson," AIPAC said in a news release.

"AIPAC respectfully calls 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."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the move by Obama, who has been pressuring Israel to halt Jewish settlement construction on the occupied West Bank as part of a Middle East peace push, did not mean he agreed with all of Robinson's views.

"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 Durban debacle".

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

Robinson said in an interview with the BBC after the conference that it had produced a "remarkably good" outcome on issues including the Middle East.

But she said there had been "horrible" anti-Semitism at the meeting, particularly in some discussions.

Obama last week announced that he would recognise Robinson for her role as President of Ireland and as UN High Commissioner for human rights.

Among others honored this year are Sen. Ted Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, tennis great Billie Jean King and scientist Stephen Hawking.