Samsung distances itself from anti-Semitic slurs about ElliottAs a fierce merger fight between Samsung Group’s Lee family and activist investor Paul Elliott Singer rages in Korea, the Lees have marshaled their best arguments for the deal, splashed ads on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers and courted minority shareholders in person.
Oh, and they announced that they aren’t anti-Semites.
Korean critics of Elliott Associates have come out of the woodwork with anti-Semitic diatribes. After three Korean publications ran stories attacking Jews for seeking to thwart Samsung - one called Jews “ruthless and merciless” - two Samsung company CEOs issued statements to distance themselves from the comments.
“We are a company that is committed to respect for individuals and [that] enforces strict non-discrimination policies,” they wrote. “We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms.” The Anti-Defamation League welcomed the statement, which it called a “clear and public stand against anti-Semitism.”
Mediapen, a Korean website that published one of the articles, has taken down its story. “It wasn’t really Mediapen’s purpose to arouse any kind of anti-Jewish sentiment at all,” the managing editor Lim Chun-sung said in an interview. “We were just trying to explain the origin of Elliott, who they are and where they came from.”
Sisa Journal, a well-known weekly newsmagazine, published a story headlined “Samsung’s Caught in the Jewish Financial Powerhouses’ Radar,” purporting to detail how Elliott and other financiers of Jewish descent, like George Soros and Carl Icahn, have formed a cabal to attack vulnerable countries and companies around the world with help from Morgan Stanley Capital International.
Elliott Associates is leading the fight against the Lees’ proposed merger of two Samsung companies, in which the Lees’ Cheil is bidding to acquire Samsung C&T, a publicly traded construction company that owns more than $10 billion in shares of Samsung Electronics and other Samsung Group companies. The deal is crucial for the children of Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who has been slowly recuperating from a heart attack he suffered in May of 2014. The family already controls Cheil; acquiring Samsung C&T, which owns 4.1 percent of Samsung Electronics, would help it secure control of the group for another generation.
It would seem there are enough issues on the table without bringing in ethnicity and religion, but the familiar slander of Jews as financial schemers has been in full bloom. The Sisa Journal article quoted a former Korean diplomat in the United States, an author of a book describing Jewish world domination, who said Jews usually control Wall Street’s hedge funds. A U.S.-educated lawyer told the magazine’s readers: “That the financial powers of Wall Street are dominated by Jews is a well-known fact.”
Singer addressed the controversy on Wednesday. “I think it’s a shame that this anti-Semitism has crept into what is a business dispute,” he said at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference in New York. “I don’t think the Korean people are anti-Semitic. I think there are some parties in this situation who want to paint this situation as Korea versus the foreigners. And the Jewish component, I can’t imagine why they thought that was something that would get traction.”
In a survey of anti-Semitic attitudes around the world, the ADL last year ranked Korea second only to Malaysia in Asia. But Rabbi Osher Litzman, who runs the Chabad House, an orthodox group, in Seoul, said he was surprised by the recent articles. “I’ve lived here for seven years, and I’ve never experienced even a fraction of anything that comes close” to anti-Semitism, he said.
Indeed, many Koreans admire what they see as Jews’ intelligence and industry. Last month, the New Yorker published a story about the popularity of traditional Jewish learning in the country, “How the Talmud Became a Best-Seller in Korea.” In 2011, Korea’s ambassador to Israel, Ma Young-sam, went on Israeli television and explained the appeal of the Talmud, a compendium of scholarly commentary. “Korean mothers want to know how so many Jewish people became genius[es],” he said. “Korean women want to know what the secret is. They found the secret was in this book.”
Talk like that, however well-intended, can itself give way to anti-Semitism, warned Simon Goldberg, director of education at the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre. “There’s a fine line between this impression of Jews as financially successful and Jews as potential manipulators,” he said.
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