THE Department of State in Washington has denied an entry visa to Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), on the ground that he ``knows of, condones, and lends support'' to acts of terrorism and ``he therefore is an accessory to such terrorism.'' If this logic were to be applied universally, the prime minister of Israel would be refused a visa to enter the United States. Yitzhak Shamir was originally a member of a Jewish terrorist group called the Irgun, which was headed by former Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Mr. Shamir later moved over to the even more radical Stern gang.
Whether Mr. Arafat ever specifically sanctioned an act of terrorism against unarmed civilians is disputed. Israel, and the US government, assume he has. PLO spokesmen say that terrorist acts committed by Palestinians or their friends and sympathizers among other Arab communities have been done by fanatical individuals or groups over which Arafat has no control.
That Shamir and Mr. Begin have been leaders of terrorist bands that committed many atrocities is beyond question. Shamir himself has defended the various assassinations committed by the Irgun and Stern gangs on the ground that ``it was the only way we could operate, because we were so small. So it was more efficient and more moral to go to selected targets.'' The selected targets in those early days of the founding of the state of Israel included Lord Moyne, British resident minister in Cairo in 1944, and the Swedish count, Folke Berndotte, on Sept. 17, 1948. Not all Begin and Shamir targets were so precise. The first act of terrorism in the long Arab-Israel wars, which involved many victims, was the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on July 2, 1946. Many women were among the 91 people killed.
On April 9, 1948, a combined force of Irgun and Stern gangs committed ``a particularly brutal massacre of some 250 Arab residents [of the village of Deir Yassin], many of them women and children,'' according to Evan M. Wilson, author of ``Decisions on Palestine.'' Accounts by Red Cross and United Nations observers who visited the scene said that the houses were first set on fire and then the residents were shot down as they came out to escape the flames.
In a book titled ``Taking Sides,'' published by William Morrow and Co., Inc., author Stephen Green tells of the ``Lavon Affair,'' which shook more than one Israeli Cabinet. The affair began in June 1954, with the planting of ``a ring of spies [``moles'']'' in Cairo, ordering it to begin sabotage operations against selected Egyptian, British, and American targets. The Alexandria post office was firebombed on July 2. On July 14, the US Information Agency offices in Cairo and Alexandria were damaged by fire started by phosphorus incendiary devices, as was a British-owned theater.
Members of the spy ring were caught, and they confessed. They had been planted by Modiin, the Israeli military intelligence organization. The purpose, presumably, was to sabotage Egyptian relations with the US and Britain. Various commissions of inquiry into the affair conducted in Israel were never able to decide whether or not Israeli Defense Minister Pinchon Lavon authorized the operation.
On Oct. 14-15, 1953, an Israeli force attacked the unarmed Arab village of Kibya, in the demilitarized zone, killing 53 civilians. The details were so gruesome that the US joined in a UN condemnation of the Israeli action and, for the first and only time, suspended US aid to Israel in reprisal.
Israeli armed forces invaded Lebanon on June 6, 1982. Arab casualties vastly outnumbered Israeli casualties. During the invasion, there were brutal massacres of Arabs at Sabra and Shatila camps for which the Israeli High Court held Israeli military officers responsible.
Arafat may well have sanctioned one or more acts of individual terrorism. But so have the leaders of Israel, who are always welcome in Washington. Arafat wanted to come to the US to make a speech at the UN. He has just modified his bargaining position to include implicit recognition of Israel. Prospects of a new peace initiative are regarded as encouraging. Denying him the visa may sabotage the new peace effort.