The Korea Herald


The branch of South Korean left blaming Israel for Hamas attacks -- who are they?

By Kim Arin

Published : Nov. 2, 2023 - 18:21

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(a screen grab of Workers’ Solidarity statement issued Oct. 19) (a screen grab of Workers’ Solidarity statement issued Oct. 19)

A few days after the Islamist militant group Hamas entered Israel on Oct. 7 and killed more than a thousand civilians, posters sympathizing with the deadly attacks popped up on several South Korean college campuses.

The posters, which defended the Hamas attacks as an act of self-defense by Palestinians, were taken down shortly after -- but the debate on the war continues to rage on.

Speaking to The Korea Herald, one Seoul university sophomore said she was “stunned by such open support for terrorist violence.”

“Mainly the reaction was shock and disbelief,” said another undergraduate, also in Seoul. Others said that the history of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians “should not be ignored.”

Behind the pro-Hamas posters that unleashed a heated debate over the war in the Middle East on college campuses is the Workers’ Solidarity, which calls itself a Marxist-Leninist organization. The Workers’ Solidarity, a name frequently used in activism for labor and other progressive causes, has been co-organizing weekly rallies against Israel since the raid by Hamas militants on the first weekend of October.

In one statement on Oct. 14, the Workers’ Solidarity said Palestine “showed Israel” with the ambush attacks. “Israel is humiliated and struck with fear, and warning of a bloody retaliation,” it said, adding, “What happened on Oct. 7 is a justified act of resistance against Israel’s pursuit of imperialism and apartheid.”

Previously the Workers’ Solidarity has routinely protested against South Korea-US joint military drills, claiming they are “Washington’s war games against North Korea and China.” The labor activist organization has also opposed President Yoon Suk Yeol offering support for Ukraine in the war against Russia and his previous appearances at the NATO summit.

Civic groups such as the Workers’ Solidarity leading the anti-Israel rallies and activities have long aligned with South Korea’s progressive parties, and have a reputation for being hostile to the US in general, especially over the presence of its forces on the peninsula.

The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, several of whose former members went on to become Democratic Party of Korea lawmakers and served in former President Moon Jae-in’s presidential office, similarly condemned the West for “standing by Israeli atrocities” in an Oct. 22 statement, though it did not directly express support for Hamas. “The governments and press of the West are once again aiding Israel spread its propaganda and indiscriminately supporting acts of genocide being committed by Israel,” it said.

So far no such explicit position against Israel has seen mainstream representation in the National Assembly with regards to the war in Gaza.

The one-seat Progressive Party, which entered the Assembly for the first time in seven years with the April by-election victory, is the only party to take a stance against Israel. In an Oct. 19 statement, the Progressive Party slammed Yoon for expressing his concerns over the Hamas attacks. The South Korean president “condoned Israel’s anti-humanitarian crimes against Palestinians and illegal occupation of Palestine for the last 75 years,” the minor party said.

One spokesperson for the Progressive Party told The Korea Herald that the party members have joined the last anti-Israel rallies, with plans under discussion for the possible participation of its leadership.

Both of South Korea’s major political parties -- the People Power Party and the Democratic Party of Korea -- have condemned Hamas for its killing of civilians while making no direct reference to Israel or Palestine.

Hong Mi-jung, a Middle Eastern studies professor at Seoul’s Dankook University focusing on the Israel-Palestine conflict, pointed out that the dialogue in mainstream politics appears to be refraining from associating Hamas with Palestine.

Speaking to The Korea Herald, Hong said Hamas is a Palestinian political party that has around 20 to 30 percent local support, contrary to its recent characterization as a terrorist organization by the US and the EU.

“Seeing Hamas as some separate entity with no relation to Palestine is a US and Israeli argument that conveniently overlooks how Palestinians feel,” she said. The Workers’ Solidarity, in an Oct. 26 piece quoting Hong, said support for Palestinian independence needed to be preceded by support for Hamas.

On some left-leaning groups siding against Israel, Yang Seung-ham, an emeritus professor of political science at Yonsei University in Seoul, said that South Korea’s progressives have a record for blaming the US for the country being divided.

“The large proportion of South Korean progressives think the Cold War superpowers are responsible for Korea’s division -- that’s the root of the sentiments they have for the US. How they feel about the US translates to how they feel about Israel,” he said.

But such an approach based on ideology is “not only irrelevant but prone to errors” when it comes to international relations, he said.

“No country is always right or morally on the high ground. In the Israel-Hamas war, the only side South Korean political leaders should be taking is one against war,” he said. “Our leaders should be careful not to contribute to any war efforts and act from a humanitarian perspective.”