So it looks like National Security Advisor James Jones is apologizing for the Jewish joke he told at a Mideast think-tank meeting this week:
“I wish I had not made this off-the-cuff joke at the top of my remarks,” Jones said in a statement. “I apologize to anyone who was offended by it.”
Here’s the joke:
A Taliban militant gets lost and is wandering around the desert looking for water. He finally arrives at a store run by a Jew and asks for water.
The Jewish vendor tells him he doesn’t have any water but can gladly sell him a tie. The Taliban begins to curse and yell at the Jewish storeowner. The Jew, unmoved, offers the rude militant an idea: Beyond the hill, there is a restaurant; they can sell you water.
The Taliban keeps cursing and finally leaves toward the hill. An hour later he’s back at the tie store. He walks in and tells the merchant: “Your brother tells me I need a tie to get into the restaurant.”
It’s worth noting that his audience, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, roared with laughter (at least according to the video). WINEP, originally a spin-off from AIPAC, is solidly pro-Israel, and presumably many in his audience were Jewish. You could even argue that the joke is offensive to Arabs: When I’ve heard the joke in the past, it’s usually been told by a Jew as a sort of revenge fantasy on an anti-Semite. At least, that’s how I interpret the joke.
But apparently, it’s Jews who are supposed to be offended by it, according to this and this, for instance. Indeed, I tried it on my wife, and her immediate reaction is that it is a joke about Jewish swindlers.
Why did he do this? Jones knows Israel; he made his comments among many Jewish people at the pro-Israel, Likud-leaning Washington Institute for Near East Policy. There can have been no intention to offend. Perhaps he thought that he was among friends who would tolerate him poking fun at their people. Perhaps he thought the joke was on the Taliban. Perhaps his critics are right and he just didn’t realise he was being anti-Semitic.
Whatever, it was very poor judgment on his part. For a top aide to be so clumsy at a time of high tension between Washington and Jerusalem is alarming.
The golden rule about ethnic jokes is they should only be told by a member of the minority concerned. Gen Jones should stick to jokes about the officer’s mess.