Jewish Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, announced on Monday that he will not be attending Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress next month.
“The president of the United States heads up our foreign policy. The idea that the president wasn’t even consulted — that is wrong and not a good thing for our country,” said Sanders, who spoke at the Brookings Institution.
“I’m not thinking about it. I’m not going. I may watch it on TV,” he stressed.
Sanders’ announcement makes him the first senator to say outright he will not attend the speech, with the Breitbart website noting he is also the first potential presidential candidate to do so.
The speech has become a point of contention not just between Israelis and Americans, but also between Republicans and Democrats, with whom Sanders caucuses.
House of Representatives Speaker Republican John Boehner invited Netanyahu to make the speech without the knowledge of either the White House's or Democratic leaders in Congress.
Obama's allies fear the trip could be used by Israel and by Republicans, who control Congress and issued the invitation, to undercut ongoing nuclear talks with Iran.
Boehner defended the action, saying Congress has every right, as a separate branch of government, to operate without the administration's input.
Sanders’ announcement of a boycott came several days after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that there will be no “organized” boycott of Netanyahu’s speech among Democrats, but suggested some lawmakers might “just be too busy” to attend.
Vice President Joe Biden has already announced that he will be travelling abroad during the joint session of Congress and will not be present when Netanyahu gives his speech.
Netanyahu has reportedly been discussing several alternative options to the address, including downscaling the event from a live speech to a closed-door session of Congress or even canceling the event altogether and addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting in Washington instead.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu insisted on Monday evening that he is determined to address Congress next month.
"I am determined to address Congress, that is why I decided to go to Washington and present Israel's position," Netanyahu told participants at an election event by his Likud party.
"From the day Israel was established to this day, there have been essential differences between Israel and the U.S., and relations remained sound – this will be the case this time as well," he added.