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June 26, 2015 8:21 pm

Korean Jew Says Antisemitic Stereotypes in Korea Are Actually Just Compliments

avatar by Eliezer Sherman

Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Wiki Commons.

The Anti-Defamation League may have indicated that more than half of South Koreans harbor antisemitic views, but a Korean Jew in the U.S. writing for Quartz said these views are actually meant as compliments to Jewish people.

According to the Anti-Defamation League’s Global 100, a survey that claims to measure levels of antisemitic beliefs across the globe (it should be no surprise that the Middle East is by far the most antisemitic region), 53 percent of South Koreans harbor antisemitic beliefs.

For a comparison, the most antisemitic country was the Palestinian territories at 93%, about 56% of Iranians harbored antisemitic attitudes, and the Chinese were about 20% antisemitic, according to the ADL index. Actually, at more than half, South Korea was far more antisemitic than the Asian Pacific average of 22%. Even Indonesia, with an over 82% Muslim population and no diplomatic relations with Israel, showed less antisemitism than South Korea at 48% (though a 2013 BBC poll showed 70% of Indonesians viewed Israel negatively).

But some of the so-called antisemitic beliefs that were assessed, such as “Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind” or “Jews think they are better than other people” could be easily misconstrued by South Koreans to be positive traits, wrote Euny Hong, a Korean-American convert to Judaism.

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“Would you believe me if I said that [the attitude] was meant to be a compliment? These answers are actually consistent with values that Koreans laud,” wrote Hong.

She also described how The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fictional account of a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world originally printed in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, was a popular read in Korea when she was growing up.

“I knew many Korean intellectuals who had it on their shelves, even though the book was a known hoax. The bizarre thing is, Koreans didn’t see the book as an anti-Semitic tract meant to induce fear in gentiles. They saw it as a manual, a model for making one’s way in an uncaring world,” she wrote.

Hong’s article was a response of sorts to a New Yorker article published earlier this week (“about a million people forwarded it to me”), which discussed a seeming trend in Korea to study the Talmud, the collection of Jewish rabbinical law. The article described a school in the country that taught Judaism as a cultural and educational movement in order to inculcate in young Koreans the perceived secret to Jewish success.

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