The room erupted in laughter after National Security Adviser James Jones told a Jewish joke last week to kick off his keynote address to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel organization. But apparently not everyone in the room was amused – and by Monday, when the Israeli paper Haaretz published a story, a full-fledged international incident was born.
On Monday, Mr. Jones issued an apology. In addition, the White House created the appearance of scrubbing the books by not including the off-the-cuff joke in its official transcript of his remarks. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denied any coverup. “It was obviously an on-camera speech,” he said, per Fox News. “There was no attempt to deceive.”
Here’s a link to the YouTube video of Jones’s joke, and here’s a transcript:
"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. He looked on the horizon and he saw what looked like a little shack, and he walked toward that shack and as he got to 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, get 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 about Israel, about Jewish people, about the man himself, about his family – and just saying '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 but I don't have water for you and I forgive you for all of the insults 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.'
"And 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 and says, 'Your brother tells me I need a tie in order to get into the restaurant.' "
And now, Jones’s apology:
"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. It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel's security is sacrosanct."
The US blogosphere is lighting up: Was this joke indeed offensive? Would it have been OK if a Jew had told it? (Jones is not Jewish.) Since the story makes fun of the Taliban, in addition to perpetuating the tired stereotype of Jewish merchants, does that mitigate any offense?