House Speaker John Boehner plans to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a bust of Winston Churchill when he speaks to a joint meeting of 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 on Tuesday is controversial because Boehner invited Netanyahu to appear at a time when international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program are at a critical juncture and his speech is likely to attack the US Administration’s stance on the talks.
Netanyahu plans on giving Boehner a menorah and scroll of Esther, the latter tied to the upcoming holiday of Purim, which celebrates the thwarting of an Persian plan to massacre Jews some 2,500 years ago.
Netanyahu’s speech is expected to address Israel’s fears over a nuclear deal with Iran, which Israel says has genocidal designs on the Jewish state.
Netanyahu told the AIPAC lobby’s annual policy meeting on Monday that his speech is not intended to inject Israel into American political debate, yet some Democrats plan to skip his address.
Boehner also has invited former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
The bust of Churchill, whom Netanyahu has said he admires, may also carry a subtext of a stab at Obama’s gaffe with the British during his first term.
Shortly after Obama was sworn in, the White House returned a bust of Churchill to the British embassy, which had loaned it to George W. Bush.
Obama’s aides rushed to deny that they had returned the sculpture to the embassy and any implications that the move was a show of “antipathy towards the British.”
But days later they were forced to backtrack, admitting the bust had in fact been sent back and that they had mistaken it for a similar piece that has been in the White House since the 1960s.
In October 2013, Boehner attended a ceremony commemorating the installation of a new Churchill bust in Congress.
Netanyahu is a fan of Churchill himself, and has a portrait of the late British prime minister in his office.
There is a measure of irony in Boehner’s gift, in that many Israeli critics of Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress used his role model against him. A month ago, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy called Netanyahu “the absolute antithesis of Churchill.”