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President Obama had a tough message for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, the powerful pro-Israel group that is furiously campaigning against the Iran nuclear accord, when he met with two of its leaders at the White House this week. The president accused Aipac of spending millions of dollars in advertising against the deal and spreading false claims about it, people in the meeting recalled.
So Mr. Obama told the Aipac leaders that he intended to hit back hard.
The next day in a speech at American University, Mr. Obama denounced the deal’s opponents as “lobbyists” doling out millions of dollars to trumpet the same hawkish rhetoric that had led the United States into war with Iraq. The president never mentioned Aipac by name, but his target was unmistakable.
Ronald Reagan opposed Aipac when he defied Israeli objections over the sale of Awacs reconnaissance planes to Saudi Arabia in 1981. A decade later, George H. W. Bush took on the group during a fight over housing loan guarantees for Israel, saying he was just “one lonely little guy” going up against a thousand lobbyists on Capitol Hill.
But the tone of the current dispute is raising concerns among some of Mr. Obama’s allies who say it is a new low in relations between Aipac and the White House. They say they are worried that, in working to counter Aipac’s tactics and discredit its claims about the nuclear accord with Iran, the president has gone overboard in criticizing the group and like-minded opponents of the deal.
“It’s somewhat dangerous, because there’s a kind of a dog whistle here that some people are going to hear as ‘it’s time to go after people,’ and not just rhetorically,” said David Makovsky, a former Middle East adviser for the Obama administration and now an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies. But Aipac’s claims, he said, had been just as overheated. “There’s almost a bunker mentality on both sides.”