James Jones, U.S. President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser, has apologized for an anti-Semitic joke he told while addressing a conservative think tank in Washington. “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 written statement.
The joke, roundly criticized by the Anti-Defamation League and by several of those present at Jones’ speech, was omitted from the official White House transcript. Observers said that the altered transcript could be excused for having been a version of remarks “prepared for delivery.”
Jones, who served as former President George W. Bush’s Middle East military envoy and was considered by the IDF to be a “thorn in the ribs,” (Israeli idiom for 'pain in the neck'-ed.) updated an old joke about a greedy Jewish merchant and placed it the setting of Afghanistan. Unnoticed by media reports of the joke that emphasized its Jewish aspect, Jones also referred to a Taliban terrorist as a “fighter” and “warrior.”
The joke involves a Taliban "fighter” who asks a Jewish merchant for water, only to be told that he sells ties, not water, but that there is a restaurant two miles away. The Taliban "warrior,” after delivering an anti-Semitic tirade, returns an hour later saying, “Your brother tells me I need a tie to get into the restaurant.”
The New York Magazine’s Dan Amira tried to rationalize the joke, saying it was not anti-Semitic. It pointed out that Jones knew most of his audience was Jewish and that he really “meant to celebrate Jewish shrewdness and business savvy with members of the Tribe, not mock the Jewish people for their trickery and avarice.”
The magazine also reasoned, “This is not one of those crude, disparaging ethnic jokes we've heard our fair share of on many a school-bus ride. Seriously, did you get the feeling that the protagonist was a 'greedy Jewish merchant'? The guy the Jew screwed over was a member of the freaking Taliban (evil)…. We're not exactly talking about Bernie Madoff stealing retirement savings from the elderly here. The Jew wasn't acting out of greed so much as obviously justified payback.”
The joke was “inappropriate," ADL national director Abraham Foxman told ABC News. "It's stereotypic…. This was about the worst kind of joke the head of the National Security Council could have told."
One think tank member said the joke was "wrong in so many levels," and added, "Can you imagine him telling a black joke at an event of African Americans?"
A transcript of the joke follows:
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.'"