The United Nations is not an honor society. The current Arab-led drive to oust Israel for its actions in Lebanon ignores this basic point: that keeping an erring member in the club is not a sign of favor but a practical means of continuing the effort to solve problems by working together. It is fully recognized in the secretariat that the UN ought to enforce its laws with strong measures - but not by excluding the very parties that need to be brought into conformity with them.
Otherwise not only Israel would be a target for exclusion but, to name only today's most conspicuous example, the Soviet Union. The week's prize for crashing irony must go to the invader of Afghanistan and oppressor of Poland for charging the United States with blackmail. This is what Moscow called Washington's warning that it would support Israel's right to participate by suspending US funds to UN bodies excluding Israel.
The warning extends to the general UN budget of which the US pays about a quarter, owing close to $150 million for the rest of this year. This could be suspended if an attempt is successful to have the General Assembly reject Israel's credentials later this month.
Last month Israel's credentials were rejected at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The US walked out and has held up $8.5 million in 1982 dues while reassessing its own participation in the agency. Washington said in effect it would do the same if Israel's credentials were rejected this week at a meeting of another UN affiliate, the International Telecommunications Union. That vote was pending at this writing.
The US is rightly being selective in its response to the anti-Israel moves. It says it is not withdrawing from the Security Council or other UN bodies where ''there is no wrongful action against a legitimate member.''
But the absence of the most powerful member from any UN agency is potentially of great harm to such important matters as nuclear safeguards and orderly communications. Even while making its points of ''reassessment'' the US must make clear its commitment to cooperation in these fields. The burden, however, remains on the shortsighted members inviting the US response by trying to get rid of Israel.
The UN Charter prescribes the procedure for expulsion of a member that has ''persistently violated'' the principles of the charter. It requires General Assembly action on the recommendation of the Security Council.
Unless such a point is reached in the case of Israel or any other member, the UN idea of universality should prevail. The best way for disunited nations to be united for peace is to keep as many in the fold as possible.