Israelis form North Korea friendship group

A North Korean gov't-affiliated organization dedicated to improving the Hermit Kingdom’s foreign relations, established a branch in Israel last year.

Shmuel Yerushalmi 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Shmuel Yerushalmi 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel has no ties, diplomatic or otherwise, with North Korea, but some Israelis dream of a warm relationship between the two countries.
The Korean Friendship Association, a North Korean government- affiliated organization dedicated to improving the Hermit Kingdom’s foreign relations, established a branch in Israel last year, administered by Beersheba resident and Marxist- Leninist Shmuel Yerushalmi.
Alejandro Cao de Benos, a Spanish national who serves as international KFA president and special delegate to the North Korean government’s Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, said that the KFA’s Israeli branch, which operates a Hebrew section of the KFA’s website and has a mailing list of about 60 people, has two major responsibilities: translating information about North Korea into Hebrew and creating an Israeli support base that can lead to cultural exchanges.
Although he does not stand by the actions of North Korea’s government, Yerushalmi told The Jerusalem Post this week that he expressed solidarity with that country because it was “under permanent attacks [from] world imperialism.”
He said the Israeli KFA affiliate’s activities, which are currently Internet-based, are part of his efforts to “organize solidarity with victims of world imperialism” and create an “anti-imperialist front” in Israel.
Yerushalmi, who made aliya from Ukraine in 1988, said he wanted to see the establishment of “one socialist country on all territory of Palestine” to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, and felt that the “true dictators of the modern world” were not Kim Jong-Il of North Korea, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya or Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, but the leaders of the US and “Western empires.”
De Benos, meanwhile, revealed Tuesday that he planned to travel to Pyongyang within a few days with American Jewish lobbyists linked to Israel, some of whom live in Tel Aviv. However, he declined to provide the names of the lobbying organizations or any delegation members.
According to de Benos, Israelis can travel to North Korea via Beijing. Yerushalmi said he had not visited yet.
“This seems a particularly misplaced form of friendship expression,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
“But it’s not illegal and not something we are going to interfere with.”
Israeli law defines enemy states as countries that waged war against Israel in 1948; Egypt and Jordan were removed from that list when they signed peace treaties with Israel. While contacts with countries such as Iran and Libya are restricted, they are not legally considered enemy states, and the same is true of North Korea, despite its support for nations and terror groups at war with Israel.
“Israel is bound and abides by international sanctions on North Korea, but it is not illegal as such to create a friendship group,” said Palmor.
Despite the KFA’s pronouncements, some doubt its ability to sew closer relations between North Korea and other countries, including Israel.
“They have no influence on any governments abroad or on the North Korean government, and they’re so extreme that they’re not able to do solidarity work for North Korea,” said Hazel Smith, a professor of resilience and security at Cranfield University in the UK, who lived in North Korea for two years while working with the UN World Food Program.
“They are a bunch of individuals who are a mixture of the curious, the naive and those who just want a free trip somewhere,” she said Thursday.
International solidarity organizations like the KFA were more important to North Korea in the past, but they are unnecessary today, Smith went on.
For example, North Korean officials frequently meet with senior US counterparts at North Korea’s UN mission in New York.
From Israel’s perspective, North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), constitutes a security threat.
Pyongyang continues to support countries and terror organizations that are at war with Israel by transferring missiles and nuclear technology to Iran and Syria. North Korea was believed to have been helping Syria construct the secret nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert that Israel destroyed in September 2007.
In Yerushalmi’s opinion, Iran and Syria should not have nuclear weapons and North Korea should not have assisted Syria with building the reactor.
However, he feels that the international community displays double standards when criticizing those countries’ nuclear weapons programs without decrying the programs of the US and its allies.
De Benos denied that North Korea had proliferated nuclear technology to Syria, Iran and other countries, and also denied any North Korean involvement with the Syrian reactor.
“We absolutely never helped with nuclear technology or any high-technology weapons system; we never share this information with other countries,” he asserted. “This is kept strictly in the DPRK, especially nuclear technology and intercontinental missiles.”
De Benos also denied North Korean support for terrorists, saying the country “doesn’t agree with any terror attack of any kind, [whether it’s] radical [Muslims] killing innocent civilians in Israel or bombings by Israel [that kill] civilians in Palestine.”
He acknowledged that North Korea had a long history of friendship with Egypt and Syria and had assisted Egypt in the Yom Kippur War, but “we are always open to friendship with anyone. We have full diplomatic relations with the UK, even though the UK fought us in the Korean War.”
North Korea has no problems with Israel or Jews, and would welcome diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, said de Benos.
“We have no religious policy or anything against Israel; indeed, Israel is a member of the UN, and we talk [to them] as [we do] any other country,” he said. “The problem from Israel’s side is [it is] influenced by US foreign policies.”
However, Palmor said there had been no talks between Israeli and North Korean representatives at the UN.
“The question of relations with North Korea isn’t even on the agenda, and you can’t consider marriage if the bride is not only not consenting, but does not even consent to be asked,” he added.
According to Smith, North Korea has no guiding ideology regarding its foreign relations, and besides national security, its main objective is to obtain economic assistance from other countries – something Israel likely would not be able to provide.
Nevertheless, she suggested, North Korea would not automatically discount relations with Israel.
“From the 1970s onward, it’s had links with all sorts of countries that were neither socialist or communist,” Smith said.
In the early 1990s, Mossad and Foreign Ministry officials traveled to Pyongyang to try to convince North Korea to end its support for Israel’s enemies.
Israel and South Korea established diplomatic relations in April 1962.
Besides Israel, the KFA has affiliates in countries such as the UK, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, France, Belgium, Venezuela, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Thailand, China and Bangladesh.