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US House leader to give Israeli leader bust of Churchill

March 2, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker John Boehner plans to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a bust of Winston Churchill when he speaks Tuesday to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress about the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The gift was chosen because Netanyahu and the former prime minister of Britain are the only foreign leaders who have addressed Congress three separate times.

The speech has spurred controversy because Boehner unilaterally invited Netanyahu to appear at a time when international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program are at a critical juncture. Boehner, a Republican, did not consult with the White House or Democratic leaders.

Netanyahu told a Jewish lobby group on Monday that his speech is not intended to inject Israel into American political debate, yet some Democrats plan to skip his address.

Vice President Joe Biden, who serves as president of the Senate, also will not be attending. He’s on a trip to Central America. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican who is president pro tempore, will fill Biden’s seat.

Boehner also has invited former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

Netanyahu’s office says the Israeli leader will give Boehner a menorah and a copy of the story of Purim, a Jewish holiday being celebrated this week that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people in the ancient Persian Empire where a plot had been formed to destroy them. The gift is symbolic in that Iran has vowed to annihilate Israel.

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