Barack Obama’s party lines up to snub Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on US visit

Senior Democrats will stay away from a speech to US Congress by the Israeli leader

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The Independent US

A growing number of US lawmakers from Barack Obama’s political party are set to snub the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he visits the United States next month.

The prime minister, who belongs to the right-wing Zionist party Likud, is due to address the US congress in a joint session scheduled for 3 March.

In an unusual move, Mr Netanyah was invited by Republican House Speaker John Boehner without coordination with Mr Obama’s White House.

Mr Obama belongs to the Democratic Party, the bitter rivals of the Republican party, who currently control Congress.

Democratic senators and representatives have said they won’t turn up to the event in protest at the nature of the invitation.

Lawmakers skipping the session include James Clyburn, who is the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, and Raúl Grijalva, the chairman of the influential Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Others giving Mr Netanyahu a miss include John Lewis, a noted civil rights champion, and G.K. Butterfield, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The White House has also announced that the country’s vice president, Joe Biden, will not be attending the speech because he will be travelling abroad.

Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives, said she currently plans to attend the speech but indicated that she could change her mind.

“It is really sad that it has come to this … as of now, it is my intention to go,” she said earlier this week.

Mr Netanyahu is expected to press for the US to impose stricter sanctions on Iran. The US is currently in delicate negotiations with the middle eastern country over its nuclear programme and the Obama administration has so far resisted calls for more sanctions.

The White House and other western countries, including Britain, believe that even introducing new sanctions legislation would give conservative elements in Iran an excuse to walk away from peace talks and bring about military confrontation.

Last month the administration told the Reuters news agency a successful delay in sanctions forced by Democratic senators was a “welcome step” and would provide space for peace talks to take place.