Category Archives: Judaism

Are Koreans Anti-Semitic?

My wife is Korean and I have a Jewish heritage. Are Koreans anti-Jewish?

The question rises because of an article at the Tablet website titled “Seoul Mates: Are Jewish Stereotypes Among Koreans a Source of Hate, or Love?”

The article begins –

This May, a survey by the Anti-Defamation League found that South Korea was the third most anti-Semitic country in Asia, behind only Malaysia and Armenia.

I was surprised to read that. I lived in Japan for many years, and saw there a large degree of veiled anti-Semitism. There were hardly any Jews living in the country, yet there existed a surprising number of books that supposedly “explained” Jewish life and culture, while subtly denigrating these.

Certainly many Japanese would have told you that Jews secretly controlled the world’s finances and media.

But Korea seemed different. My wife actually seemed excited to learn that I was part-Jewish, through my father, a Jewish refugee to New Zealand. Koreans regard Jews as exceedingly clever and successful, she told me.

And that is also what the Tablet article is telling us.

When they arrive in the country, many Jews are often aghast at how, once they tell Koreans they are Jewish, they are treated as though they’re the lights of brilliance upon the world. “On two separate occasions, I’ve had Korean friends tell me that they had heard that Ashkenazi Jews and Koreans were statistically the most intelligent,” said Jesse Borison, 30, a U.S. Airman who has been stationed in Korea for seven years. 

…Zachary Green, 25, an English teacher from Pittsburgh, says his Jewish heritage gained him a certain cachet with Koreans. “Whenever I told a Korean that I was Jewish, that person almost always seemed very impressed. He or she assumed that I was very smart,” Green told me. “I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the respect, envy, and admiration that came with telling people I was Jewish.”

…Apart from being seen as highly intelligent, Jews are often told by Koreans they are good with money and occupy important positions in government and media—positions Koreans covet. This, perhaps, is where the disconnect between the ADL survey and Jewish perceptions in Korea occurred. “[The ADL] asked the question, ‘Do you think the Jews have too much power?’ ” [Seoul Rabbi Osher] Litzman said. “Everything was about ‘too much.’ What can you answer when everyone is asking about ‘too much’? If you say ‘no,’ what do you mean, it’s too little?”

“The questions were not clear for Koreans,” Litzman continued. “For them, ‘too much’ means ‘a lot.’ So, what’s wrong with it? There’s nothing wrong with it. They admire this and they want to be the same. One of the questions was, ‘Do the Jews control the media too much?’ or something like that. Koreans also want to [be influential in media]. They look at it as a model.”