The Los Angeles Regional office of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has long been at the forefront of forging new alliances with non-Jewish groups and communities in the city of Los Angeles when it comes to public advocacy on a whole host of issues. Yet the AJC’s on-going efforts for public advocacy concerning Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons is to be applauded because they have reached out to local groups that most Jewish organizations would never think of approaching. Last week the AJC joined in an event locally with “NetKal” USC’s Network of Korean-American Leaders to discuss the potential dangers of a North Korean nuclear attack and a nuclear attack from Iran’s current regime. There is perhaps no other local community in Los Angeles than the Koreans who best understand the dangers of a rogue regime headed by a lunatic dictator with access to nuclear weapons. Kudos to the AJC in outreaching to the Korean community and also learning their perspectives on two very dangerous regimes that could potentially plunge the world into an unspeakable chaos if either country launched nuclear weapons.
I recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Rabbi Mark Diamond, the Regional Director of AJC Los Angeles about the AJC’s outreaching event with the local Korean community. The following is a portion of that conversation…
Can you please share with us why AJC decided to go forward with this event regarding Iran and North Korea's threats of nuclear war at this point in time?
The relationship AJC Los Angeles enjoys with the Korean American community in general, and NetKal (USC’s Network of Korean-American Leaders) in particular, spans several years. Our partnership produced an acclaimed program in this series in 2012, a groundbreaking project that focused on human rights abuses, spearheaded by young professionals in the Jewish and Korean-American communities. This year’s program, “Crossroads of Diplomacy: Evaluating the Threats of North Korea and Iran,” was another example of how our communities are working together with common goals and interests. We are two large, diverse communities in southern California that come together for friendship and fellowship. We share a unique bond in discussing the dangers posed by two nations, in two different parts of the world, whose nuclear ambitions threaten their neighbors, regions and global peace and security. This program could not have come at a more critical moment given recent developments in Iran and North Korea.
Following your recent event, how receptive do you believe the local Korean community is in understanding the threat of a nuclear Iran to Israel and the rest of the world?
Few communities in the United States are more likely to understand the nuclear threat that Iran poses for Israel than the Korean-American community. The response by Korean American leaders and their concern, not only for the nuclear threats from North Korea, but also Iran, has been positive and humbling. The Korean American community in Los Angeles has expressed the utmost understanding for the situation that Israel faces and has expressed their desire to forge even stronger ties with the Jewish community through this unique partnership with AJC Los Angeles.
AJC has long sought alliance with many different non-Jewish groups locally and nationally on an array of issues. As a result of your efforts, how has the relationship between the Korean community and Jewish community changed locally regarding the Iranian nuclear issue?
When communities become aware of one another’s concerns and begin to take that awareness to a deeper level—one of mutual understanding and respect—relationships themselves deepen and evolve. Though our dialogue and desire to learn more about how we share mutual interests, values and concerns, we have discovered that our communities are aligned in many ways. We acknowledge that there are similarities and differences between North Korea and Iran. North Korea and Iran both cheated on their pledges by seeking nuclear weapons capability. Both nations gave verbal assurances to the international community that was not backed up by corresponding action. Instead, they divert major resources to acquiring nuclear materials. Both were isolated and subjected to economic sanctions by the United States and international community. Both have abysmal human rights records. North Korea has long been a reliable supplier of arms and nuclear technology to Iran and both have united to undermine international efforts, including the UN Arms Trade Treaty, to set standards for cross-border transfers of conventional weapons.
Aside from the nuclear threat, there have been horrible crimes committed against humanity in both the regimes in North Korea and Iran. Has AJC and other non-Jewish groups you have worked with addressed this human rights tragedy in your panel events?
AJC was founded more than 100 years ago as a human rights organization. At the core of our global Jewish advocacy work is AJC’s mission, which includes “advancing human rights and democratic values in the United States and around the world.” AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) has documented shocking human rights abuses in Iran and North Korea. Speakers at our recent program addressed these abuses in their remarks, underscoring AJC’s concern for human rights in both countries.
What other non-Jewish groups and has the AJC has been outreaching to with regards to the issue of Iran's threat of nuclear weapons?
Central to AJC’s mission is our advocacy work with foreign diplomats and national, state and local elected officials. At each meeting, AJC leaders raise these issues with our interlocutors. We also engage in dialogue on this issue with our many faith and intergroup partners, including the Baha'i community, which is particularly engaged in the issue because of the persecution of the Baha'i community in Iran. This December, AJC Los Angeles will partner with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council for a major program featuring AJC Executive Director, David Harris, who will deliver a keynote address on the threat of a nuclear Iran and other global issues.