Sen. Mark Hatfield (R) of Oregon has openly expressed an anxiety that many public figures are talking about privately: if the AWACS sale is lost, and a cutoff of Saudi oil follows, a lot of Americans will resent it and look for a scapegoat - and this could spur anti-Semitism.
The senator himself opposes the sale, even though he is worried about a possible outbreak of anti-Semitism. He says he is even more concerned that the sale would escalate the prospect of a US confrontation with the Soviets in the Persian Gulf.
Mr. Hatfield told a group of reporters over breakfast Oct. 27 that ''there is a latent anti-Semitism in this country.''
''My mail and my talks with people in my home state,'' he said, ''show that anti-Semitism definitely is on the increase. Should, as the result of the defeat of AWACS, there be an oil cutoff, this would be the breeding ground for anti-Semitism.''
Hatfield also said that the ''intransigence of (Israeli Prime Minister Menahem) Begin - his attack on the Iraq reactor'' was a factor in anti-Jewish feeling among Americans. But when asked: ''Is Begin's conduct stirring up anti-Semitism in this country?'' he replied: ''I don't want to use Begin as an excuse.''
Hatfield said that other senators share his view. ''It has come into my conversations with other senators frequently.''
He also said that the Jewish lobby was damaging itself with senators. He said there is a ''heavy erosion'' of support for Israel among many senators because of this group's ''heavy lobbying.'' The senator indicated that many are becoming tired of ''being politically cornered'' by the Jewish lobby.
''Any president,'' he said, ''who is all-out for Israel in the campaign and then tries to deal with the Mideast in a balanced fashion runs into this political problem (with the Jewish lobby).''