A guy I knew in my youth, called “Billy” by his friends, passed a few days ago. I’m sad and sorry but it happens — not everyone can be Norman Lloyd. Billy was a builder and a designer, but also the guy who opened a small window on my understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he did it with just nine words. This also happens. Someone will express an opinion in just the right way with just the right number of words and the right kind of English….wham. Your viewpoint is altered.

We were sitting on a floor at a party in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, during the Nixon administration, and Billy, fortified with lysergic acid diethylamide, was expounding on this and that. The subject of Israel came up, which Billy was no fan of. He saw Israel as an aggressive military bully — “tanks!” — appropriating Palestinian territory. Billy was brilliant and well-educated but no pretentious intellectual — he liked to talk like a farmer, a building foreman, a salt-of-the-earth type. Which is probably one reason why I’ve never forgotten his concluding statement on the Middle East dispute: “Lemme tell ya, them Ay-rabs, they got the lowdown.”

From that moment on, I began to feel more and more compassion for the Palestinians and to regard Israel with more and more suspicion.

And then ISIS happened. These days it’s hard not to be tugged by a certain concern about Ay-rabs, or at least those in their flock who not only have the lowdown but have cornered the market on crazy. That’s the wrong way to look at it, of course. I’m not a Trumpster. I’ll be voting for Hillary on 11.8. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the days in which Billy’s view exerted a certain influence have come to an end.