[Viewpoint] Send ‘comfort women’ to New York

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[Viewpoint] Send ‘comfort women’ to New York

On Aug. 15, the 66th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan, an unusual event took place in New York. Seven local politicians attended the opening reception for the “comfort women” exhibition held at the Holocaust Resources Center and Archives of Queensborough Community College.

American politicians are sensitive about money. The size of their campaign war chests often influences who a party nominates and, sometimes, the result of the election. But politicians, including a New York state legislator and a New York City councilman, attended an event organized by New York’s Korean-American community that had nothing to do with fundraising. The politicians listened to a series of speeches and remarks that lasted nearly two hours.

Jews established Holocaust centers all over the world to make sure the tragedy they suffered in Nazi Germany is remembered. These centers also serve as gathering places for the local Jewish community.

The Holocaust Resources Center and Archives of Queensborough Community College was founded by members of the Kupferberg family, descendants of Romanian Jews based in Queens, New York. Kenneth Kupferberg, who was the biggest benefactor of Queensborough Community College, was a physicist who participated in the Manhattan Project, a research program that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. The influence of the Kupferberg family certainly encouraged the local politicians to attend last month’s event.

Moreover, the issue of comfort women enslaved by Japan is a matter of human rights. By nature, it is different from the territorial dispute over the Dokdo islets or the controversy over the naming of the East Sea. From the point of view of American politicians, Dokdo and the East Sea are territorial disputes between Korea and Japan. The more we raise our voices, the more Japanese rightists welcome it, as the issues could become international disputes.

Unlike these controversies, the issue of comfort women is an Achilles’ heel of Japan. The U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution about comfort women in May 2007. Seven American politicians also called for an apology from the Japanese government.

The Queensborough Holocaust center also made a very special proposal. It wants to invite surviving former comfort women to New York and arrange a meeting with Holocaust survivors. It would put Japan in a very awkward position to bring together the victims of antihumanitarian crimes of the East and West.

Moreover, the facilitator is a Holocaust center, the heart of the Jewish community. There is no better setting to publicize the brutal crimes of Imperial Japan to mainstream Americans.

However, the Korean-American Voters’ Council, which made the exhibition possible, has a concern. It cannot afford the travel expenses to bring the elderly comfort women to New York.

Just in time, the Constitutional Court harshly reproached the government last month. There is a dispute between Korea and Japan over sexslavery victims’ right to compensation, but the government is not actively involved in advocating for the Korean victims.

The Constitutional Court ruled that this inaction is an infringement of the basic rights of the victims, and thus, the government’s inaction is unconstitutional. Perhaps the Constitutional Court’s rebuke is a wake-up call to our collective indifference.

In Japan, the person who once said “there is no war criminal in the Yasukuni Shrine” is now prime minister. We are worried what kind of unreasonable comments he would make to provoke Koreans and ruin the Korea-Japan relationship again.

At this critical juncture, it would be a great shame if the opportunity presented by the Holocaust center in New York comes to nothing because the Korean-American organization cannot afford plane tickets for comfort women.

*The writer is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Jung Kyung-min
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