They Dare to Speak Out, by Paul Findley. Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill & Co. 324 pp. $16.95. One suspects that former congressman Paul Findley is anything but impartial when the subject is the power of Israel's lobby in the United States.
Mr. Findley, after all, openly attributes his 1982 electoral defeat to the American-Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), which made him a target him because he did not toe its line on foreign policy. So it is tempting to pass off his book (with its unfortunately melodramatic title) as a grudge piece against the Israel lobby.
But Findley, to his credit, has provided much more here than diatribe and complaint. He apparently was galvanized by his unpleasant experience with the lobby into writing a first-class academic and journalistic book. The research is thorough, the writing unemotional.
Other than the first couple of chapters, where he details -- in a surprisingly objective manner -- what happened during the 1982 campaign in his downstate Illinois district, Findley looks outward.
He examines the history of America's lopsided official attitude toward the Middle East, a score of the most egregious examples of AIPAC's behavior, and the effect of all this on public debate and policy.
Because of his access to highly placed government officials, Findley's book contains a wealth of original statements and observations from the likes of William Fulbright, Philip Klutznick, George Ball, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and many other prominent figures, speaking on the record and off.
In short, this book outlines the behavior of an interest group with enormous influence not only in Washington but in congressional districts and hamlets throughout the United States.
AIPAC boasts that because of its activities, ``American Jews are thus able to form our own foreign policy agenda.''
After the 1984 elections, in which Sen. Charles Percy (R) of Illinois was defeated in part because of his view of Middle East policy, AIPAC director Thomas Dines told an audience: ``All the Jews in America, from coast to coast, gathered to oust Percy. And American politicans -- those who hold public positions now, and those who aspire -- got the message.''
There are dozens of topics and subtopics: the 1967 Israeli assault on the USS Liberty; the influencing of Middle Eastern studies programs at major universities; the lobby's penetration of the State and Defense Departments, so information on Israel or its enemies is routinely leaked to Israel's backers.
Then there are the curious ties between fundamentalist Christians and Israel. Findley notes the paradox: ``Mainline Christians who accept the legitimacy of the Jewish faith but question some policies of the Jewish state are branded anti-Semitic, while evangelical Christians who back Israel but doubt the theological validity of Judaism are welcome as allies.''
AIPAC and its sister organizations -- as well as many Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of Israel -- have succeeded in cowing many Americans, especially politicians and publishers, into soft-pedaling criticism of Israel. One particularly effective means is to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
Is this fair?
No, it is not fair. But here is where one might differ slightly with Findley: It is important to note that some criticism of Israel does indeed stem from anti-Jewish sentiment in the dark corners of the Christian and Islamic worlds.
Sometimes anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are the same thing, and anti-Semites use ``Israel'' as a code word for ``Jew.''
Criticism of Israel should always be tempered by the knowledge that 6 million Jews were systematically murdered on this planet less than 50 years ago. Israel is not just a country, it is a safe haven for Jews.
That noted, one still should be able to oppose Israeli (or Saudi or Japanese) policy on objective grounds. There are also legitimate Palestinian, Arab, and Islamic aspirations (not always the same thing), and many times they conflict with Israeli interests. These should not be run over roughshod in our attempt to protect Israel's existence.
What distresses Findley most is the way public debate of Israeli policies has been routinely quashed by AIPAC. Of course, a good lobbying group -- from handguns to trucking to Israel -- must try to see views carry the day.
In a recent phone interview, Findley credited AIPAC for its ``professionalism'' and ``thoroughness,'' and he doesn't expect it to ease up anytime soon: ``To survive, a lobby must seek out new enemies to defeat them.''
He grants that Americans with ties to Arab countries might become more skilled at the American political process and do their own lobbying. But the real burden, he says, falls on ``American Jews, who should be more challenging'' of Israeli policies.
``More and more US Jews should speak out, and once in a while we should see US Jews publicly rebuke Israel. There should be an organized effort by American citizens who are Jews to try to examine Middle East issues based on our own national interests.''
Findley's book makes clear that the US could travel many miles toward the middle of the road before American Jews need worry about sentiment shifting significantly against Israel.