The White House chief of staff referred to an Israeli “occupation” in comments to a left-leaning Jewish organization.

That group, J Street, welcomed Denis McDonough as a speaker at its conference in Washington, an annual gathering that is notoriously divisive among US Jewish organizations.

“An occupation that has lasted more than 50 years must end,” McDonough said to much applause toward the end of his speech. The remark was immediately picked up by media and became the lightning rod moment of the address–occupation is a term Israelis and typically the Jewish community at large take umbrage with in regard to Israel’s involvement in the West Bank and Gaza.

“The United States will never stop working for a two-state solution and a lasting peace that Israelis and Palestinians so richly deserve,” McDonough also said, in clear reference to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strong language last week ahead of elections. Bibi cautioned that a Palestinian state would never be established while he was leader, words he has since backtracked.

“We cannot simply pretend that these comments were never made,” McDonough said.

“Even if a nuclear deal is reached, our concerns about Iran’s behavior and around the world will endure,” McDonough added in reference to Netanyahu’s recent Congress address against a US deal easing economic sanctions on the Islamic republic.

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