WHEN Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin canceled a scheduled speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on March 21, some leaders within the Jewish community said the move was a signal that one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States was losing its clout.
After a decade during which the lobby was instrumental in shaping US Middle East policy to Israel's advantage, its future role is now in question.
"1992 was a trying year for AIPAC," the lobby's new president, Steve Grossman, said in a phone interview. These difficulties include a conflict with the Israeli government that became public last summer and press reports that the organization waged campaigns to discredit those it kept on "enemy lists."
In November, major US newspapers reported that David Steiner, AIPAC's president at the time, had bragged to a potential donor that the lobby was negotiating with the Clinton administration on executive-branch appointments. Mr. Steiner resigned, and AIPAC responded that his claims were untrue.
Since November, AIPAC has worked to recoup. Mr. Grossman is a former Democratic state chairman with close links to President Clinton. "AIPAC should act in as collegial a way as possible with other groups in the pro-Israel community," he said. And over several meetings, AIPAC has reconciled with Mr. Rabin, he adds.
But AIPAC leaders, Israeli officials, and leaders of US Jewish groups agree that one consequence of these difficulties will be a contraction in AIPAC's activities, with the lobby relinquishing some involvement with the White House and State Department.
After the Clinton-Rabin meeting March 15, Secretary of State Warren Christopher briefed leaders of the US Jewish community. Sitting next to AIPAC representatives were representatives of Americans for Peace Now and other Jewish groups who had never had access at such a high level.
"This administration appears to be bypassing the traditional institutions that usually act as intermediaries," says one US Jewish leader. "For the moment, [AIPAC is] not able to control access up and communications down."