conference circuit

NSC’s Brett McGurk addresses AIPAC leadership meeting in Washington

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also spoke Monday, vowing unwavering support for Israel as many in his party are growing more critical

MAZEN MAHDI/AFP via Getty Images

Brett McGurk, US White House Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, speaks during the 17th IISS Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital Manama on November 21, 2021.

Brett McGurk, the National Security Council’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, addressed an AIPAC leadership meeting in Washington, D.C. on Monday, Jewish Insider has learned.

McGurk’s appearance was not previously announced by AIPAC; a spokesperson had not addressed questions about whether any administration officials would be appearing at the closed-door conference of approximately 1,600 AIPAC leaders and activists.

The NSC official has been a particular target of criticism from progressives over the Biden administration’s Israel policy, partially due to his reported prioritization of normalizing Israeli-Saudi relations.

In addition to McGurk, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spoke to the conference on Monday. Other lawmakers, including Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) were also in attendance, JI has learned.

In his remarks, a prepared copy of which was obtained by JI, Schumer vowed unwavering support for Israel. Schumer’s speech, which closely echoes many he has given since Oct. 7 to pro-Israel audiences, comes in contrast to recent rhetoric by President Joe Biden and a growing number of members of Schumer’s Democratic caucus, who have been increasingly critical of Israel’s campaign in Gaza, threatened conditions or cuts to aid to Israel, disavowed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or called for a cease-fire.

“I stand here today to declare — that as the first Jewish Senate Majority Leader ever — and the highest-ranking Jewish leader in American history — I will never allow the bonds between Israel and the United States to grow weak,” Schumer said. “The defense and security of Israel has always been one of my most important priorities ever since I came to Congress — but since October 7th, I have never been more certain that it’s the right thing to do.”

Schumer described his support for Israel as “an obligation I feel deep within my soul” and “stitched into my family’s identity,” vowing “we will always have Israel’s back.”

The Senate majority leader emphasized that Israel must “do everything it can possible to minimize Palestinian casualties,” as he has on numerous occasions, but highlighted that Hamas deliberately hides behind civilians and said that there “is no equivalency” between Hamas and Israel.

He said other priorities must include removing Hamas from power, freeing the hostages and providing humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians. He said he’s “working in every way I can” to support the negotiations to free the hostages and secure humanitarian assistance.

He touted his work to pass the Senate’s Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan funding bill, calling on House Republican leadership to bring the bill up for a vote.

“I urge House Republican leadership to put the supplemental [bill] on the floor because it will pass,” Schumer said. “It is the right thing to do. President Biden will sign it and Israel will get the aid it needs.“This is an inflection point in history. The world is watching Congress. Our adversaries are watching. And Israel is waiting for us to act.”

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