Two Nations: One Story Where Israel and Korea Intersect

Steven Windmueller, Ph. D.

Posted on September 10, 2014 / 15 Elul 5774

Written by Steven Windmueller, Ph. D.


Clearly, nations share many of the same challenges and undergo similar political experiences. In certain historic models, there are distinctive commonalities that exist among specific nation-states. Korea and Israel represent such a dual-connection. Both countries would re-emerge after World War Two, Israel representing the culmination of a dream of the Jewish people through the centuries; Korea securing its independence after a period of thirty-five years living under Japanese occupation.

Two peoples have shared a common struggle to reassert their national identity and political will. But this story does not end with political independence, in fact the similarities covering their economic development and cultural values are strikingly similar.

The Dream of Homeland and Memorializing the Past: It is striking how both societies have sought to capture their legacy through literature, language, and legacy. Korea’s story is one of national renewal where heritage and tradition are being reconstructed. Israel’s focus has been about the reconnection of the Jewish people with their land and cultural roots. Both societies are endeavoring to preserve their social and historical myths that bind their people together. Memory must be seen as an essential tool in framing for their respective citizenry a sense of national mission and purpose.

Nation-Building: Correspondingly, both nations have spent nearly three-quarters of a century reconstructing their narrative, creating memorials to embrace their past while building modern economic and social systems to embrace the 21st century. In line with this notion of reclaiming their national legitimacy, their capitols, Seoul and Jerusalem, are referenced and revered by their citizens through the physical and metaphorical act of “going up,” symbolizing the special place that these city-centers of nation-building provide.

Diaspora: Both nations have nurtured their special ties to their respective Diaspora constituencies. The partnerships that both countries have created with their constituencies abroad represent a central ingredient to their political story. Especially within the Diaspora setting, Jews and Koreans have found common ground in dealing with their shared political, cultural and economic concerns.

Their Place in History: Peoples facing external threats learn to adapt to their political realities. In the case of these two cultures, there is an abiding commitment to both learn from those who have controlled their national destinies while seeking to preserve their distinctive cultural identities. Adaptability has singularly defined the historic journeys of both peoples.

Technology and State-Building: Israel and South Korea today rank among the leading nations in promoting new technologies and in attracting investors and in creating new avenues of innovation. Not surprisingly, in recent years, leading companies, universities, and investors from both societies are seen as collaborating in expanding their exchange of knowledge and trade.

Education as a Cultural Value: Both societies have been singularly committed to the advancement of educational opportunities for the generations that would follow. Universities, research and cultural institutions, and historical sites are seen as the centerpieces of the national stories of both countries.

Special Relationships with Washington: South Korea and the State of Israel each hold a “special relationship” with the American people and its governing institutions. Korea’s military security remains tied to its particular connection to the United States; Israel’s very existence was dependent on the willingness of an American President (Harry Truman) to endorse Jewish Statehood. In turn, the Jerusalem-Washington connection would expand over the decades, tied not only to military preparedness but also to a broad shared engagement around political, economic, and social concerns. Together with the United States, both nations remain particularly vigilant to the changing political conditions within their regions of the world.

Concluding Notions:

At a time within the political climate, where separatism and conflict seem to define national consciousness, it is refreshing and promising to identify a story of commonality involving two great civilizations.

This article was written for the Korean Daily which was published on September 6, 2014. The Korean Daily’s version in Korean can be accessed by clicking this link Two Nations: One Story Where Israel and Korea Intersect (Korean Daily Version). The PDF version of this article can be downloaded by clicking here.

Dr. Windmueller, along with his wife, Dr. Michelle Windmueller, a LAUSD administrator, returned recently from Korea where they participated on a visit sponsored by the Foundation for Korean Language and Culture in the USA. This article was featured in Korea Daily on September 6, 2014 and can be accessed here: Two Nations: One Story Where Israel and Korea Intersect

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