It has often been said that in Israel there is public mood rather than public opinion. For a recent story about Menahem Begin's popularity, a street vendor was interviewed to get his thoughts.

"I am absolutely crazy about him," the vendor said. "In my eyes Begin is the equal of Ben Gurion. (Israel's first prime minister)".

The quote was featured in the headline of the story and when it was shown to the vendor, he exclaimed with fury that he should be asked the question again because now he woouldn't vote for Begin if he were the last man in Israel.

He was angry at something the prime minister had done. It doesn't really matter what. So much for the man-in-the-street interview.

The man in the street himself is changing in Israel. Jews from the Middle East and North Africa now make up slightly more than half the Jewish population of 3 million and they are generally given the credit for putting Begin into his present job.

According to a recently released statistical abstract of Israel, first and second-generation Jews from Morocco now constitute the largest national group in the country. There are some 428,000 Moroccans in Israel. Jews from Poland make up the second largest group with 346,000.

There are only 75,000 Jews from North America and Australia in the country as compared with 162,000 Yemenites.

A DISTINGUSIHED Israeli correspondent, recently returned from an assignment in Europe, wrote a scathing article about Tel Aviv last month called "A dream Destroyed."

Where was the "gleaming white" Tel Aviv that once "encapsulated the dreams of the Zionist utopia?" he asked. Gone were the coffee houses and bookshops that gave Tel Aviv the feeling of Central Europe. Today, Tel Aviv's smartest street, Dizengoff, "at certain hours reserbles a souk [Arab market] with goods hung out on display and cooking smells mingling with the heavy summer humidity," he lamented.

He never came to grips with the fact that Israel is increasingly becoming more Mediterranean than Northern European in character. Tel Aviv is beginning to feel more and more like the ports of the Levant.

It is not unlike the way Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Cubans, with their lively life of the streets, have changed the character of many sections of American cities.

Nor is the change limited to the new immigrants from the Middle East and Africa. The children of stolid German Jews become more free in their talk, more expressive in their hand gestures, more like Italians and Greeks than their Northern European parents and grandparents.

In the summer, the beaches of Tel Aviv and Alexandria in Egypt are almost indistinguishable with crowds eating, swimming, arguing and laughing. Macho-minded young men in both cities strut along to impress girls in bikinis.

Intellectuals in Arab countries who fret about Israel being a European outpost in their midst may find that they are growing more and more European as customs change with modern technology while Israel grows more and more like the rest of the Levant.

NEARLY HALF of the Israeli people believes that more Israeli settlements in the occupied Arab territories would be detrimental to peace prospects, according to a poll taken by Israel's largest newspaper, Maariv.

According to the poll, 46.7 per cent said that further settlements would hurt the chances for peace with the Arabs while 23.6 per cent believed there would be no such effect. Another 12.2 per said that more Israeli colonization of the territories captured in the 1967 war wouldn't matter one way or around and 5.5 per cent thought more settlements would help chances for peace. There 12 per cent that had no opinion on the matter.

Among the 18-to 29-year-olds, those who would do most of the dying in a new war, 55 per cent said that more settlements would hurt chances of peace with the Arabs.

The newspaper did not ask people if they would be willing to remove settlements for peace and the whole question of what to do with the occupied territories is so wrapped up in fear and emotion that it would be hard to get a straight answer.