The success of a senator's adjournment-rush demand for U.S. taxpayer millions to build new schools for Jewish children in France marked a new peak in President Reagan's problems with congressional actions pushed by the pro-Israel lobby.
''We fought that money for new French schools,'' an administration official admitted to us, ''but no one listened.'' Sen. Daniel Inouye, a major Democratic recipient of contributions from Jewish campaign donors, insisted on the $8 million appropriation. Without noticeable opposition, he squeezed it into the $598 billion continuing resolution.
Schools in France financed by U.S. taxpayers are not the same as taxpayer aid to help Israel maintain its control over the West Bank and Gaza, an occupation that exploded two weeks ago. But Reagan's lack of Capitol Hill clout is the same on French schools as on Gaza, a fact made clear by other congressional actions that are viewed by key policy-makers as a form of force-feeding hazardous to Israel's health.
Inouye is a highly regarded Israel ally, so much so that he was entrusted with the chairmanship of the Iran-contra committee. In France, however, the reaction to Inouye's school aid program for Sephardic Jewish families who moved to France decades ago from North Africa was not enthusiastic. ''We have nothing against U.S. taxpayers,'' a French official told us, ''but it must seem strange to the Americans.''
State Department analysts say privately that the appropriation might also seem strange to Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza. Secretary of State George Shultz's No. 1 proposal for handling the Arab-Israeli dispute is an international peace conference, but Israel says no. Shultz's No. 2 policy is to upgrade what he calls ''the quality of life'' for the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in the Israeli-occupied territories but have no vote or voice on how their taxes are spent.
Shultz months ago asked Congress for $23 million to make life a bit better in Gaza and on the West Bank. Despite alarms signifying Palestinian distress during the West Bank-Gaza insurrection, congressional leaders turned their backs. The proposal, first tossed out in the acrimonious budget negotiations, failed to get back in during the last-minute adjournment rush.
To Israel's leaders, that probably looked like a signal from Congress that no matter how upset President Reagan was over Israeli army killings of Palestinian youth, Congress understood that an iron-fist policy was needed to quell the disorders. Instead of using the tragedy to highlight Reagan's warnings against live bullets, thereby bolstering Israel's Labor Party moderates, Congress was pointedly looking the other way.
Administration officials told us Shultz has not given up. He will try to get Congress to ''reprogram'' money out of the Pentagon's account next year to finance his ''quality of life'' proposal. The congressional outlook, however, remains bleak.
Other session-end actions successfully pushed by the pro-Israel lobby included a new financing device written into the continuing resolution that administration officials say could save Israel $2 billion in paying off the huge debt accumulated from years of American aid. Now running at about $3 billion a year, that assistance used to go to Israel as repayable loans. Today most of it is outright grants.
Other countries who owe the United States money from foreign aid also get the benefit of this refinancing gimmick to help pay their debts, but Israel's per-capita debt dwarfs all others.
In still another late decision, Congress agreed to let Israel have up to $180 million to develop a defense system capable of destroying short-range attack missiles, presumably to be targeted against Soviet offensive missiles now deployed in Syria.
Mideast strategists inside the administration acknowledge concern over this exuberant show of congressional confidence in Israel when its government is blocking all U.S. peace proposals and its army is building new jails to hold Palestinians. Their worry is that the session-end force-feeding -- what Israel wants Congress will give, and then some -- may enhance the political power of hard-line Likud hawks.
The Likud policy of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir favors territorial expansion. That prospect, coupled with forcible expulsion of Palestinians, gives the United States its black eye throughout the Moslem world. It gives Labor Party moderates their concern that disaster may lie ahead. But Congress, looking only to next year's election, seems bent on encouraging Shamir and his allies, passing out more and more sweets.