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Anti-Semitic cartoons assailed

L.A. Jews and Korean Americans condemn a racist comic book published in Seoul.

February 24, 2007|K. Connie Kang | Times Staff Writer

Korean American community leaders who met with a top official at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles on Friday said they were disgusted by anti-Semitic depictions in a comic book by a popular South Korean author and vowed to mobilize community resources to launch a protest against the publisher.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, met with the group and said he would visit Seoul on March 15 to raise concerns about the comic book. He said its publisher has an obligation to pull the book from the market and replace it with one that depicts Jews accurately.

The controversial book, written by Lee Won-bok, a South Korean university professor, is one in his series designed to teach youngsters about other countries in a comic book format.

The series, "Distant Countries and Neighboring Countries" in English translation, has sold more than 10 million copies, Cooper said.

The images "echo classic Nazi canards like those found in [Nazi newspaper] Der Sturmer and 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' by recycling various Jewish conspiracies, like Jewish control of the media and money, Jews profiting from war, and even the reason for the 9/11 attacks," Cooper said.

One comic strip shows a drawing of a man climbing a hill and then facing a brick wall with a Star of David and STOP sign in front. A translation says: "The final obstacle [to success] is always a fortress called Jews," implying that they won't let anyone get ahead of them.

Another shows a newspaper, magazine, TV and radio with this description: "In a word, American public debate belongs to the Jews, and it's no exaggeration to say that [U.S. media] are the voice of the Jews."

Korean American community leaders who met with Cooper said they were disgusted and embarrassed by the book and said they would speak to officials at South Korea's consulate in Los Angeles and in Seoul.

"I don't have words to describe the outrage I feel," said Yohngsohk Choe, a co-chairman of the Korean American Patriotic Action Movement in the U.S.A., who was at the meeting.

"The depictions are explosive. They have the potential to harm good relationships we have established with our Jewish American neighbors in Los Angeles."

The case became widely known after a local Korean-language newspaper published stories showing some of the cartoons.

Cooper said he learned about the book this month from bloggers in Seoul. He promptly wrote the publisher to "carefully review the slanders in this book that historically have led to anti-Semitic violence and genocide," and instead, "consider providing facts about the Jewish people, our religion and values to young Koreans."

Cooper said he was not satisfied with an e-mail response from Eun-Ju Park, chief executive of Gimm-Young, the Seoul publisher.

In her brief e-mail, Park said the author had sent a statement of apology to Charles Kim, national president of the Korean American Coalition, a Los Angeles-based group with branches in major U.S. cities.

Park wrote that she would look into the matter "more closely and correct what needs to be corrected."

Cooper said his focus was not on an apology so much as how to replace the "disgusting" and "vile" images with correct ones.

People who read the material in South Korea may not have any significant contact with Jewish people, but in Los Angeles, Jews and Koreans are neighbors, he said.

Cooper said he appreciated the support he has received from members of the local Korean American community.

"I like to think that we can make some progress in this area," he said. "I am not so much interested in that author, but I am interested in saying how do we now make sure that reality -- the truth -- gets out to that constituency?"

connie.kang@latimes.com

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