Update at bottom: Jones apologizes, Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman slams ‘inappropriate, stereotypic’ joke; Mediaite: Joke ‘missing, not scrubbed’
President Obama’s National Security Adviser James Jones told a joke stereotyping Jews as greedy merchants to a Washington policy forum Friday night.
The remark — little-noticed except in the New York-based Jewish newspaper The Forward — drew laughter and applause but raised more than a few eyebrows among those in attendance.
In fact, the White House left the joke out of Jones’ official speech transcript, “which conveniently began a couple of minutes into the speech.”
Jones was speaking to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel thinktank. According to the Forward, the Institute was founded by Jewish donors.
The joke, according to video of it posted on YouTube (below), was:
GENERAL JAMES JONES: In order to set the stage for my remarks, I’d just like to tell you a story that I think is true. It happened recently in southern Afghanistan.
A member of the Taliban was separated from his fighting party and wandered around for a few days in the desert — lost, out of food, no water. And he looked on the horizon and he saw what looked like a little shack, and he walked towards that shack. And as he got to it, it turned out that it was a shack, a store, a little store owned by a Jewish merchant.
And the Taliban warrior went up to him and said, ‘I need water. Give me some water.’
And the merchant said, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t have any water, but would you like to buy a tie. We have a nice sale of ties today.’
Whereupon the Taliban erupted into a stream of language that I can’t repeat, but about Israel, about Jewish people, about the man himself, about his family. ‘I’ve just said I need water. You try to sell me ties. You people don’t get it.’
And passively the merchant stood there until this Taliban was through with his diatribe and said, ‘Well, I’m sorry that I don’t have water for you. And I forgive you for all of the insults that you’ve levied against me, my family, my country. But I will help you out. If you go over that hill and walk about two miles there’s a restaurant there and they have all the water you’ll need.’
The Taliban, instead of saying thanks, still muttering under his breath, disappears over the hill, only to come back about an hour later. And walking up to the merchant, he says, ‘Your brother tells me I need a tie to get in the restaurant.’
The Forward said that in private conversation, two participants questioned the joke’s taste and appropriateness. “After all, making jokes about greedy Jewish merchants can be seen at times as insensitive,” the paper wrote.
One “think-tank” source purportedly said the attempt at humor was Ã¢â‚¬Å“wrong in so many levelsÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“demonstrated a lack of sensitivity.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Can you imagine him telling a black joke at an event of African Americans?Ã¢â‚¬Â the anonymous attendee is quoted as adding.
Jones hasn’t been a darling of pro-Israel hawks, who’ve questioned his stance on Palestinian issues.
A former official for AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, has written that Jones “wrote [a] harsh report on Israel,” and another newspaper noted that he “reportedly wanted to publish a report that was harshly critical of Israel’s failure to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian security force and to allow more freedom of movement for the Palestinians.”
Other conservatives have critiqued him for participating in the J-Street conference, a group described as “pro-Israel,” and “pro-peace.”
But despite the joke, Jones’ complete speech seems to have come off well.
“Jones got a standing ovation before and after his remarks,” Politico‘s Laura Rozen wrote Friday.
Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman slams ‘inappropriate, stereotypic’ joke; Mediaite: Joke ‘missing, not scrubbed
At ABC News, Jake Tapper reports, “While many in the largely Jewish audience laughed, others didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t find it so funny, including Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of BÃ¢â‚¬â„¢nai BÃ¢â‚¬â„¢rith.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It’s inappropriate,Ã¢â‚¬Â Foxman told ABC News. Ã¢â‚¬Å“it’s stereotypic. Some people believe they need to start a speech with a joke; this was about the worst kind of joke the head of the National Security Council could have told.Ã¢â‚¬Â
At Mediaite, Tommy Christopher writes, “Politico reported that the joke was ‘left out’ of the White House transcript of the event, and right-wing blogs are a-burninÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ with outrage. JonesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ joke may have been ill-advised, but there doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t appear to be any attempt by the White House to ‘scrub’ it.”
Conservative blogger Yid with Lid correctly points out that the video posted at the InstituteÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s website does omit the joke, and the transcript provided by the White House doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t include the joke. What he, and others, failed to check, though, was whether the transcript provided by the White House constituted Ã¢â‚¬Å“prepared remarksÃ¢â‚¬Â or Ã¢â‚¬Å“remarks as delivered.Ã¢â‚¬Â
A comparison of the White House transcript and the full C-Span video clearly shows that the White House transcript consisted of JonesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ prepared speech, not the speech as it was delivered. There are multiple (minor) deviations between the two from very early in the speech.
This doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get the White House completely off the hook, since they did not label the transcript Ã¢â‚¬Å“as prepared for delivery,Ã¢â‚¬Â but it does provide a certain amount of insulation from criticism. For very high-profile speeches like the State of the Union, the White House will release two transcripts, Ã¢â‚¬Å“as preparedÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“as delivered,Ã¢â‚¬Â but not for most others.
The Mediaite columnist doesn’t believe the joke is anti-Semitic, even though it seems to portray how Jewish merchants could take advantage of an Arab dying of thirst in the desert.
Christopher adds, “perhaps ethnic humor isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the best choice for administration officials to try out,” but that “the point of the joke is the Taliban fighterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cleverly delivered comeuppance, not the ‘greed’ of the merchants.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“To make fun of Jews in terms of Ã¢â‚¬ËœJews wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help you in need, Jews want to sell to you?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Whoa!Ã¢â‚¬Â Foxman says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Where’s the sensitivity? The irony of it is General Jones went to this forum to reach out to the Jewish community. Of all the jokes this is probably the worst one he could have picked.Ã¢â‚¬Â
On the other hand, a Jewish member of Congress, asked for a response to JonesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ joke, told ABC News, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Lighten up.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Some time Monday afternoon, Jones apologized for the remark in a statement, Politico’s Laura Rozen reports.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I wish that I had not made this off the cuff joke at the top of my remarks, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it,” Jones said in a statement. “It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to IsraelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s security is sacrosanct.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“The apology rightly speaks for itself,” White House spokesman Gibbs told reporters at the press briefing, adding that the joke didn’t appear in a transcript of Jones’s remarks because it wasn’t a presidential event and there had been no White House stenographer present. There was no “attempt to deceive,” Gibbs said.
When asked if the president or anyone asked Jones to apologize, Gibbs added, “Not that I’m aware of.”
The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder writes, “It’s one thing for a Jewish person to tell a schmaltzy joke involving, uh, Jewish merchants, but that stereotype is so old that even Jews don’t self-mock that away anymore. That said, give the guy props for somehow making fun of the Taliban at the same time.”