Martin Luther, Franklin Roosevelt, and the invisible fence.

I live in an invisible ghetto – sort of like the “invisible fence” that is used to keep dogs from going off his owner’s property, where the dog-collar gives the dog a shock whenever he tries to leave the property.
We could believe that this “ghetto” is all in my head – that I am imprisoning myself. Or, we could believe it is real. Lets put that aside though, and look at history, some of it recent.

In 1546, Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation who initially wanted to convert the Jews to Protestantism, issued a booklet that stands as a treatise on anti-Semitism. It was titled, “Of Jews and Their Lies.”

“First, their synagogues or churches should be set on fire…Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed…They ought be put under one roof or in a stable, like gypsies…”

And indeed, Jews were forced to live in ghettos, in Germany and in Italy, for example.

From our modern-day perspective, telling people where they can and cannot live is trampling on the rights of a minority.

Apartheid in South Africa was another example of this, and segregation in the South yet another example.

The people of the “race” or “religion” in power was saying, in effect, that a malign influence had to be kept away from their people. Luther is an odd case though – initially he wanted to convert the Jews, but when he failed, he became very hostile.

I once read a plan by a white supremacist in the US which proposed that the Jews could get their own state in Long Island (which is an island about 100 miles long next to Manhattan), the American blacks could get the southeast US, and the rest of the country would be reserved for whites.

Franklin Roosevelt
Franklin Roosevelt

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, spoke privately, on numerous occasions, about the alleged racial characteristics of Jews, the danger of allowing Jews to concentrate in particular areas, and the pernicious Jewish influence on various economies.

At a private White House luncheon, President Roosevelt told Prime Minister Winston Churchill that “the best way to settle the Jewish question” was “essentially to spread the Jews thin all over the world.” Roosevelt said that this approach had been “tried out” in Meriwether County, Georgia, and in Hyde Park, New York “on the basis of adding four or five Jewish families at each place,” and “the local population would have no objection if there were no more than that.”

In 2013, the New York Times reported that “for some Jewish students in the Pine Bush Central School District in New York State, attending public school has been nothing short of a nightmare. They tell of hearing anti-Semitic epithets and nicknames, and horrific jokes about the Holocaust…[One Jewish girl said]…she heard slurs like Christ killer, stupid Jew, dirty Jew, disgusting Jew. “Jew was kind of an insult,” she explained.

The New York Times reporter then adds: “At that point, a pickup truck pulled up nearby, and a man emerged. The man, John Barker, 42, a mechanic, cautioned that “everybody watches out for everybody.” When asked about the presence of Jewish families, he blurted out, “We don’t want them in our town.”
“They can’t drive, for number one — and they already have Sullivan County. Who really wants them here? They don’t belong here.”

I don’t want to editorialize here on the above, but it should be obvious that the targets of these attitudes will resent them.

A while back, conservative columnist Linda Chavez said that she, as a Latino, resented some of the anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric she was hearing from some conservatives.

So we can ask: are some or all of these attitudes fair, justified, or at least understandable?

As I said, I won’t editorialize, but I’ll give my experience. I am Jewish, and I also was in a sleazy scandal that took on wings.

I was called “The Hebe”, and “Jew”, and one woman told me that “[after seeing your performance] now I understand the holocaust.”
In New Haven, a foreign student called me “subhuman”.
There was more.
It became refreshing to be just called a “swine” — at least the racism was left out of that epithet.

One year I showed up in Alaska, in a youth hostel, and a young man recognized me. He told a woman “I do not want to be in the SAME STATE as him!”
Recently I walked one day near White Plains, N.Y. and a car slowed down near me, and a young man told me to “stay away!”

I had a programming job in the city, and a few days into the job, I knew I was in trouble when a female coworker walked by my office and said in a threatening tone that ” ‘it’ grossed me out totally”. A few days later when I started talking to myself, as I sometimes do when I work, she could not restrain herself and shouted “Hebe!”
The friend with her said “You can’t be serious!”, and the bigot tried to back pedal, but the friend would have none of it. “This is BIG!” she said.
And big it certainly was.
When I bicycled far from my home, I would be warned – and then attacked. The nature of the attack is very interesting, but it’s not relevant here. The point is that the attack worked, and it kept me within a small geographic area near my home.
I don’t know enough to explain the attitudes I was encountering, but I can speculate. My impression from some of the hostility I received was that some people thought it an outrage that I could be happy and healthy and handsome and successful etc. given what I supposedly did.
Also, after being attacked by a kind of Mafia, I knew a bit of how that mafia operated, and perhaps they did not want that knowledge spread. Or perhaps they did not want me taking any protective measures without their knowledge. Or perhaps…

There are certain things it is reasonable to ask of a minority, or even of a person who has undeniably been mired in sleaze. You can ask of him (or them) to not be a drain on society (other than when misfortunes force them to be), you can ask them not to engage in criminal activity, and you can ask of them not to embrace totalitarian ideologies which they want you to submit to.
But if they are not guilty of any of the above, it is not reasonable to tell them that their supposed (or my case real) obnoxious characteristics invalidate the rights that everyone else enjoys.
invisibleFenceSpecifically, you have the right to pick your own friends, and to avoid contact with whoever you want to, but you do not have the right to rearrange the world so that your eyes are not offended by seeing an out-group when you enter public spaces – by banishing them somewhere far away.




2 thoughts on “Martin Luther, Franklin Roosevelt, and the invisible fence.

  1. Horrendous. No wonder many people living outside the US hear stories like this, compare ithem with the alleged American beliefs in freedom and equality, and conclude that they shouldn’t believe anything the USA says. There is some prejudice in the UK, but on nothing like the same scale. In the 30s the Fascist leader Oswald Mosely led his supporters to Jewish areas in the East End of London and they found themselves beaten back by the East Enders united against their vile philosophy. I know that the civil rights people in the 60s were fighting against anti-black prejudice (enshrined in legislation in many cases) but I don’t see any generalised opposition to prejudice per se.

  2. You are right in saying that there is a contradiction between American beliefs and behavior, in my case.

    Our first president, George Washington, wrote to the Jewish community in Newport, Rhode Island a letter of encouragement, where he said:
    “For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
    and he quoted the bible:
    “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

    I have witnessed a lot of disappointing behavior, but I don’t really have a grasp on what is going on. There is obviously bigotry out there, though there is also another America – a warm-hearted, friendly, principled America. Both Americas include whites, blacks and other groups. And there is always a criminal element, and I used to think that criminals were strictly practical and avoided ideology, but that is probably not true, given what I’ve experienced.
    One more irony that struck me was that some of the folks who engaged in their own little secular jihad against me, were sleazy themselves, and so I wonder at the lack of self-insight that they have.
    But there is obviously a lot I do not know.

    Here is another source of antisemitism in the US, most of the kids who talk to you about it in the video below are Jewish, and it does seem to be a real problem

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