THE LOBBY. Jewish Political Power and American Foreign Policy. By

Edward Tivnan. 304 pages. Simon & Schuster. $19.95.

AS lately demonstrated by the Iranian arms affair and the Pollard spy

 case, the ''special relationship'' between the United States and Israel

 can take discomfiting turns for Israel's friends in this country. So

Edward Tivnan's assault on the American Israel Public Affairs

 Committee, Israel's main voice in Washington, is at least timely.

 Whatever reservations many American Jews may feel about Israeli

actions, Mr. Tivnan argues, when it comes to addressing the White

 House and Congress, they tend to speak with one voice - that of this

lobby.

It must be said at once that Mr. Tivnan's heavily delivered and fairly

 familiar charge does not include ''dual loyalty.'' He concedes early

 that pro-Israel lobbyists are behaving like other lobbyists, if more

 effectively than most, and in accord with the expectations of the

 Founding Fathers, the letter of the law and the customs of American

 politics. What troubles him is the public-affairs group's success in

 influencing, for the worse, he maintains, American policy in the

Middle East.

Mr. Tivnan, who has been a reporter for Time and ''20/20,''

sympathizes with the Peace Now movement in Israel, which is more

 open than most Israelis to an accommodation with the Palestinians.

He is exasperated that while citizens of Israel feel free to criticize

 their Government in public, many American Jews tend to hold back

 lest any show of discord hurt the Jewish state. He writes, with a

 typical touch of overstatement: ''Total support of Israel had become

 a requirement of leadership in local Jewish communities throughout

 America. An American Jewish 'leader' could be married to a gentile,

 he could be a stranger to the synagogue, but if he became a public

critic of Israel, he would soon become a former Jewish leader.''

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee's successes as

recounted here are no secret; nonetheless, they are impressive. The

 lobby's main objective since its beginnings in the early 1950's has

 been to assure Israel of financial assistance; today, Washington

 gives that small country about $3 billion a year. The lobby's power

 rests largely on the readiness of American Jews to donate generously

 to politicians of both parties deemed to be friends of Israel and to

 withhold donations from those who are not friendly enough. In

 addition, Jewish citizens can be counted on to vote when and where

 it counts. And officeholders are aware that Israel remains popular

 among Americans of all faiths, at least as compared with its

 neighbors.

That popularity, Mr. Tivnan contends, is being jeopardized by the

 behavior of the Jerusalem Government, especially since the rise of

 the right wing, led by Menachem Begin. The gist of his chapter

 entitled ''Jimmy Carter's 'Jewish Problem' '' is that Israeli policies

 delayed the Camp David accords and have undermined them since

 they were signed. Like many of his views, this one invites rebuttal.

The main point, however, is that ''Jimmy Carter had more support for

 his policies in Israel than in the American Jewish community.''

Although the book doesn't take us deeply into the private workings of

 the committee, it does offer a good illustration of the lobby's

 operations -the vote early in the Reagan Administration on the sale

 of five Awacs (airborne warning and command systems) planes to

 Saudi Arabia. The lobby narrowly lost that one, but only after

 strenuous senatorial arm-twisting by the White House. President

Reagan, known as a friend of Israel, was driven to declare, ''It is not

 the business of other nations to make American foreign policy.'' (Mr.

 Tivnan does not neglect the efforts of the Saudi Arabian lobby, but it

 isn't in the Israeli committee's league.) The defeat of Senators

 Charles H. Percy and Roger W. Jepsen is attributed to their votes in

favor of the Awacs sale.

''Is such an aggressive pro-Israel lobby good for the Jews, in Israel

 or in the United States?'' Mr. Tivnan asks, and there is nothing

 ambiguous about his answer. He asserts, in a particularly

questionable passage, that the silence of dissenting American Jews

 has ''allowed AIPAC to sell a neoconservative version of the

 American Jewish community to the White House and the Congress.''

 ''Silence'' is surely not the precise word for the uproar that

 continually enlivens Jewish public life, and no politician who reads

 the polls can believe that most American Jews are neoconservative.

Nor is the author's geopolitical analysis a model of subtle thinking. He

 calls King Hussein of Jordan ''the man most actively in pursuit of

 peace in the Middle East,'' and his relentless attacks on Israeli

 policies are much stronger than his criticisms of such players as

 Yasir Arafat, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the Soviet Union.

But you don't have to accept the thundering commandments to the

 Diaspora with which ''The Lobby'' concludes to grant that there is

 something to the book's main argument -that many American Jews

 do feel inhibited about speaking out on Israeli actions that are of

 legitimate concern to the United States. In treating that delicate

 subject in a not-so-delicate way, ''The Lobby'' is in keeping with the

 scrappy spirit of open controversy found in both America and Israel.

It's one of the things that makes the relationship special.

Photo of Edward Tivnan