After centuries of being scattered throughout the globe as roaming wanderers, Jews returned to the so-called the “Promised Land” of Palestine and established a new state. On May 14th, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, a major leader of the Jews, proclaimed the establishment of the Jewish State two hours before the termination of British sovereignty in Palestine. United States was the first to recognize this declaration, and it has been maintaining a honeymoon phase with Israel by working at the forefront to ensure Israel’s security and welfare. Perseverance of sole Jewish state of Israel amidst Arab nations seemed to be impossible, but Jews from all over the world pulled their resources and tactics together to preserve the new found nation. Jewish Americans played a central role by working diligently to improve American society and building a formidable bridge between United States and Israel. This is still an on-going mission of Jewish Americans and will only continue to intensify.
Middle East has been blazing up in flames once more in the recent decade. The conflict between Palestine and Israel has shaken up United States to bits. United States is left with no choice but assist Israel in this conflict. Whether the public opinion turns against Israel or Israel is condemned by the international community, United States must scramble to help whenever it is in need by Israel. This is not because of diplomatic relations between Israel and United States, but the family members of 6,000,000 Jewish Americans. Protection of Jews in Israel is synonymous with protection of the United States citizens.
I have been searching for the reason behind the prolonged honeymoon phase in US-Israel relationship, because I find striking similarities between Koreans and Jews and the situations they have been placed in historically. I have investigated the Jews tenaciously for the last ten years, paying closer attention to how they gather and exercise political influence. After my investigation, I concluded that the only thing which differentiates the Jews from the Koreans was “action.” Jews and Koreans share many traits; there are ongoing armed conflicts in both countries, and their national securities are closely tied with the United States. It became clear that Korean Americans had to unite politically. And it has been twenty years since I have made that my life-long task.
Jews have created and operated a system in which they gather political momentum in their respective towns and districts, and deliver them collectively to Washington D.C. It is known as AIPAC. It was back in 2002, more than a decade ago, when I first knocked on AIPAC’s doors and became immersed in it in order to learn about its functions. I talked about AIPAC to Korean American communities and Koreans residing in South Korea. Now, AIPAC is no longer obscure to the general Korean American public. There has been a heightened interest in political empowerment among Korean Americans.
Without careful strategies, the fate of an ethnic minority in the United States is dim. We have now reached a point where we can distinguish between having a ‘Korean American politician’, and having political influence as a ‘Korean American community’. AIPAC was able to truly pick up its momentum when it first recognized that difference. And what we need to prioritize is not the former, but the latter.
Leaders from all across the United States have finally stepped up to unify the political power of Korean Americans. They agreed that Korean Americans need to create political momentum in their respective areas, gather that momentum, and deliver it to Washington DC all at once. This was the idea behind Korean American Grassroots Conference, which was held from July 29th to July 31st in Washington DC. Hotel rooms were filled up by 250 attendees. At least half of the attendees were truly engrossed in the cause. As someone who had been preparing for this for the last twenty years, the conference felt ‘solemn.’ An AIPAC specialist once said that a group that can bring five congress members out of the Capitol to meet in one spot will receive the attention of the K Street. The proponent expert behind Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and former representative, even gave us an advice to aim for just two. We aimed for twenty, and contacted the Capitol relentlessly since the beginning of 2014.
On July 30th, 200 Korean Americans armed with patriotic zeal ran around on their feet all day. They visited the offices of 535 Congress members with all their might, and used the information they obtained from the education session on previous night while meeting with congress members and their legislative assistants. My phone was flooded by calls from congress members who I’ve known from before. They expressed genuine surprise that Korean Americans have gathered in DC for a ‘common agenda.’ Two United States Senators and nine Representatives from both parties attended the gala following the lobbying session. An oddity was that the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (Rep. Robert Menendez) and chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs (Rep. Ed Royce) shared the same table. They were joined by the Korean ambassador to the United States. “I have been longing to meet with these two members ever since my appointment as an ambassador, and it overwhelms me that I am able to meet both of them at the same time, thanks to the Korean Americans,” were the opening words of the ambassador’s speech. Amidst the chaos and greeting all the guests, I struggled to contain my tears of joy.
The attendees of the conference comprise 0.0001 percent of the entire Korean American population. But hard work paid. ‘Sincerity is the way to heaven’- this ancient Korean phrase is what comes to my mind.