[Viewpoint]Jewish wisdomTo the great interest of the Korean people, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution on July 30 condemning Japan’s comfort women. But few would know that wisdom from a Jewish group helped it pass.
As the story goes, a Korean-American organization played a major role in the passage of the resolution. The group, named the Korean American Voters’ Council of New York/New Jersey, led by Kim Dong-seok, was established to expand the political power of ethnic Koreans.
While considering how to increase the group’s power, Kim hit upon an excellent idea. In 2001, he asked for help from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the most powerful Jewish organizations in the United States. Although they were doubtful at first, he said, the executive members of AIPAC gladly handed down strategies on how to lobby politicians when they understood his intentions.
In the meantime, the issue of the resolution about Japan’s sex slavery during World War II surfaced. Kim immediately asked for help from the Jewish group. Its executives were hesitant, probably because they were aware of Japan’s power. But because Israel felt the pain of having nearly six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust by the Nazis, they finally decided to help him behind the scenes and provided critical advice.
During the last stage, as the general meeting of the House was repeatedly put off, they gave him a clever tip. The tactic was to have Korean comfort women appear to draw the attention of representatives, and to bring them to San Francisco, the constituency of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The result was 100 percent effective. More handy advice, “Show interest in the daughter of Tom Lantos, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, an essential figure for the resolution,” came from them, too.
Although they are now on the inside of the U.S. political community, Jews faced unspeakable hardships in the past. Until the 1950s, European-Americans would leave a party if Jews arrived. Most country clubs did not accept Jews as members. Although it is hard to believe now, Jews are said to have been indifferent to politics until the 1940s because they were busy making a living. That indifference became a political liability. In the annual dinner held by the Voters’ Council last year, M.J. Rosenberg, the director of Policy Analysis for the Israel Policy Forum, confided a secret story, that even former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not say a word about the Jewish Holocaust. Rosenberg said, “It was because we did not lobby properly.”
Jewish people have reflected on themselves thoroughly. Many people said that unless it fostered political power, neither Israel nor the Jewish community could survive.
As a result, AIPAC, the American Jewish Congress, and the Jewish Confederation were born. Rosenberg explained, “The United States approved Israel’s declaration of its foundation in just six minutes thanks to the persistent lobbying beforehand by its groups.”
Korean-Americans resemble Jews in many ways. They are like Jews in that they put first and foremost priority on education and they are diligent. Perhaps because of this, all of the dry cleaners, wig shops and fish and vegetable grocery shops that first-generation Korean immigrants run are the same types of business as Jews had run.
The difference is that Jews united to enhance their political power whereas Korean-Americans are divided and scattered.
Many believe the passage of the resolution provides a chance for the Korean-American community to begin a grassroots political movement. In the process, they need to learn from the Jews. For example, AIPAC announces every year its ranking of politicians who helped Jews. And then the group encourages Jewish businesspeople to contribute to politicians.
Two million Koreans live in the United States. When there are important current issues like visa exemptions and the free trade agreement, they can provide a lot of support. It might be far more effective for the Korean-American constituents to write as a group to their representatives than for Korean politicians to visit U.S. lawmakers. Both the Korean government and the political community should try this approach.
There is a Jewish proverb, “Better to ask 10 times than go astray once.” It would be good to borrow wisdom from the Jews, who followed the tough road to expand their political power ahead of the Korean-Americans.
*The writer is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Nam Jung-ho