Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) became the first Democrat to announce that he will not attend the upcoming speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday.
“The idea that the President wasn’t even consulted -- that is wrong.... I’m not thinking of not going. I am not going. I may watch it on TV, but I’m not going,” Sanders said at an event at the Brookings Institution. His comment sparked applause.
So far, The Hill reports, eleven House Democrats have also declared that they will not attend the speech. Vice President Joe Biden’s office announced Friday that he would be overseas at the time of Netanyahu’s address.
Netanyahu has received wide criticism for planning to address Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner, with no consultation with the White House. Yet despite opposition at home and abroad, the Israeli Prime Minister plans to address Congress.
"The major powers and Iran are galloping toward an agreement that will enable Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons, which will endanger the existence of the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said at his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday.
“The American Secretary of State and the Iranian Foreign Minister held talks over the weekend. They announced that they intend to complete a framework agreement by the end of March. From this stems the urgency of our efforts to try and block this bad and dangerous agreement.”
In addition to plans to boycott his speech, Netanyahu has received pressure from the Anti-Defamation League -- a U.S.-based organization that fights anti-Semitism globally -- to cancel the speech.
“[The speech] has been hijacked by politics,” National ADL Director Abraham Foxman said in an interview released Friday. “Now is a time to recalibrate, restart and find a new platform and new timing to take away the distractions.”
But Netanyahu, concerned with the direction taken at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, remains firm.
“A bad deal with Iran is forming in Munich that will endanger Israel's existence,” Netanyahu said today, according to the Associated Press. “...Therefore I am determined to go to Washington and present Israel's position before the members of Congress and the American people.”
At a joint press conference between President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier today, the Prime Minister's visit came up.
“I don’t want to be coy: the prime minister and I have a very real difference [of opinion] around Iran -- around sanctions,” Obama said. “It does not make sense to sour the negotiations a month or two before they’re about to be completed.”
Obama reiterated that the White House will not host Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu because of it’s policy not to host foreign officials shortly up for re-election.
“As much as I love Angela, if she was two weeks away from an election, she probably would not have received an invitation to the White House -- and I suspect she wouldn't have asked for one,” he said with a glance over at the Chancellor.
Merkel nodded her head tentatively, smiling slightly, and then nodded again more firmly, bringing chuckles from the audience.
“What’s the rush?” Obama concluded. “From the perspective of U.S. interests, and I believe from the perspective of Israel’s interests, it is better if we can get a diplomatic solution.”
Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress on March 3.