Thursday, April 26, 2007

MEMOIR: How Israel destroyed a longtime friendship

One of my best friends at college was a fellow World War II veteran named Michael Ameer (a pseudonym). We were both journalism majors and were among the handful of our classmates who were lucky enough to land jobs and establish careers in the field.

Michael was an infantryman decorated for bravery during the Battle of the Bulge. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, the son of immigrants from Lebanon. I recall that he told me that his parents were Eastern Orthodox Christians who became Episcopalians in the U.S.

While in college, I do not remember ever discussing Middle East politics with Michael. But he was well aware of my ardent support of Israel. In a class on editorial writing, I regularly argued the Israeli cause. Indeed, my heated classroom debates with our professor, who opposed Zionism, underscored how passionate I was about the issue.

At that time (1947-48), Lebanon's Maronite Roman Catholic community supported the creation of Israel.Its leaders apparently believed that a Jewish state in the region would be an important ally against their traditional rival, Lebanon's huge Muslim population.

Soon after graduation, Michael settled in Rochester, N.Y., where he became a star reporter for the local daily paper, and where he still lives. He also worked for several years in Albany as a speech writer and publicist for New York state legislators.

My career took me to Washington, D.C. and later back to New York City. Over the years Michael and I kept in touch. We lunched together on his frequent visits to his family in New York. And when my older daughter enrolled in the Rochester Institute of Technology, Michael and his wife were exceedingly hospitable, easing my daughter's transition to college life.

Whenever we met during the four decades after our college graduation, we invariably talked mostly about our families and careers. I don't recall ever discussing the subject of Israel with Michael until one day at lunch a couple of years before my retirement in 1989.

I do not remember what triggered the discussion, but Michael suddenly launched into a tirade against Israel, employing the standard Israel-bashing arguments. He explained that he had become an active supporter of the Palestinian Arab cause.

Michael denounced the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, but disregarded the history of Arab invasions that caused the occupation. He complained about Israeli restrictions on Palestinian life, but avoided mention of the Arab terror attacks on Israeli civilians that were responsible for those measures.

As I recall, he even referred to PLO leader Yasser Arafat as a "heroic freedom fighter," disregarding Arafat's role in killing innocent Israeli women and children. And on he went, depicting Israel as an ogre victimizing the Palestinians, using all the Israel-bashing cliches that have become part of the vocabulary of Israel's opponents.

I made no effort to defend Israel against Michael's harangue. Instead, I said to him: "Michael, we've been friends for about 40 years. If we are to remain friends, I think it would be wise if we do not discuss the Israel-Palestine issue."

I do not remember how Michael responded. But I have not seen or heard from him since then.

Meanwhile, I have discovered that he has become a prolific, Palestinian propagandist on the Internet. I have read his articles published in such anti-Israel, on-line newsletters as the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and on such loony left-wing web sites as Counterpunch, which continues to insist that the Israelis were somehow involved in the 9/11 attacks.

I regret that Michael and I are no longer friends. And I wonder whether Michael also regrets the loss of our friendship.

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