WASHINGTON –Rep. Chaka Fattah will not attend Tuesday's speech from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Congress, the Philadelphia Democrat said Monday.
"I would never participate in any activity to disparage the President of the United States, therefore I will not be present tomorrow," Fattah said in a statement. "I will be in Israel a week from tomorrow, to continue my leadership in strengthening the United States and Israel's cooperation and partnership in science and technology."
Fattah is the only official from the Philadelphia region to so far say he will not attend the speech, which has turned divisive. More than two dozen Democrats have said they will not attend, according to the New York Times.
Many Democrats see the event as a political jab at President Obama, since Netanyahu is coming at the behest of House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), without a clearance from the White House – a breach of longstanding protocol when it comes to foreign leaders.
To these Democrats, the circumstances of the speech have forced them to decide between backing their president and backing Israel – which usually enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress.
"I am deeply troubled by the politicization of America's vital relationship with Israel, and the disregard for longstanding diplomatic protocol displayed by House Republican leadership. This is an affront to our president, to members of Congress, and a betrayal of the long-held American principle that when it comes to national security, politics ends at the water's edge," Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) said in a statement.
But he will still attend.
"When America's and Israel's security is on the line, and we're dealing with a situation as dire and complex as Iranian nuclear negotiations, I will listen to all sides, and will not miss an opportunity to hear from the prime minister of one of America's closest and most important allies," Booker said.
The speech comes as the United States and several international partners negotiate with Iran over a deal aimed at preventing Tehran from building a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu fears that the negotiations will fail to stop a nuclear Iran.
In a speech Monday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Netanyahu said his address to Congress "is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama or the esteemed office that he holds. I have great respect for both." But he argues that he has to speak out because a deal could "threaten the survival of Israel."
Other Democrats have made less of the concerns over protocol.
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said in a release that "the bond between our two countries has been and always will be unbreakable. Israel's security and that of the United States are inextricably linked." He said he will attend.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, will attend the speech. He is scheduled to speak to AIPAC's conference Monday night.
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D., Pa.) and Ryan Costello (R., Pa.), both freshmen new to foreign affairs questions, wrote a joint op-ed set to run in the Inquirer Tuesday that explains their reasons for attending the speech.
"Shortly after today, the media firestorm over the speech will fade," the two wrote. "But the consequences of what we do about a nuclear Iran will last far longer."
Republicans have cheered Netanyahu's visit and speech to Congress.
"Israel is one of America's greatest allies in the world, and it is on the front lines of the battle against terrorism and radical Islam," Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said in a news release. "I eagerly look forward to hearing Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech before Congress tomorrow. We should pay close attention to the perspective of the only true democracy in the Middle East."