Jewish Journal

North Korea, Rodman, and Jews

by Jared Sichel

January 6, 2014 | 1:07 pm

Eating is fun (and rare) in North Korea. photocredit: Reuters

An interesting cadre of people gathered Monday in Manhattan at the Museum of Tolerance. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center joined Rep. Eliot Engel and two defectors from North Korea to condemn Dennis Rodman for his upcoming basketball game in Pyongyang, North Korea, which is slated for Wednesday. Rodman recruited some ex-NBA players for the exhibition match, which will commemorate boy-dictator Kim Jong-un's birthday.

Kim, remember, is the same guy who runs a country that starves its own citizens, executes and imprisons people for things as minor as owning a Bible or a Western DVD, and oversees four concentration camps that hold an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners, many of them in jail for "crimes" allegedly committed by their parents and grandparents. (Note: Anyone remotely interested in this topic must read Escape From Camp 14.)

Rodman, though, apparently regards Kim as a "friend for life," and won't discuss pesky political issues with him, like turning what could be an incredibly prosperous country (see: South Korea) into a wasteland. But as he pointed out:

"I'm not a president, I'm not a politician, I'm not an ambassador," he said before arriving. "I'm just an athlete and the reason for me to go is to bring peace to the world, that's it. That's all I want, no money. I want no money, no money."

This author is tempted to psychoanalyze Rodman's pursuit of a friendship with one of the world's most dangerous and evil men, but why dour the reader's mood so early in the new year?

Rather, let's highlight the fact that a very prominent Jew, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, is an outspoken voice on the horrific life that North Koreans live because of their government. Jews in particular should speak out for people oppressed by tyrannical governments. That is, in a nutshell, Jewish history since the times of Pharaoh. North Korea, since the Korean War (1950-1953) has been the most consistently awful human rights crisis in the world. As David Hawk, author of The Hidden Gulag, told me, there are points in history where certain atrocities outdid the Kim family's form of national torture (Rwanda, Kosovo, Syria), but North Korea has consistently been a massive prison for 60 years.

Kudos to Rabbi Cooper for representing American Jewry in appearing at this press conference. One can only hope that more people, and more Jews, take interest in The Hermit Kingdom.

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Jared is a staff reporter for the Jewish Journal. Raised in North Potomac, MD, a sleepy suburb 30 minutes outside Washington D.C., Jared attended Tulane University in America’s...

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