Tuesday, April 27, 2010

National Security Adviser Jones Tells Old Jewish Joke and Issues Apology

It's not often that a Jewish joke makes the front pages of the nation's newspapers but that's what happened yesterday.

White House National Security Advisor James L. Jones started his speech at a Washington policy forum Friday night with a classic joke about a crude antisemitic Taliban fighter and a clever Jewish merchant who outsmarted him.

Some people who found out about the joke a few days later took offense that a non-Jew would tell such a joke.  We'll bet that very few of them actually saw Jones' delivery and reacted to media reports referring to the joke as anti-semitic and as stereotyping Jews as greedy merchants.

With the media all abuzz about a perceived insult to Jews and to Israel, Jones quickly apologized, saying:  "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."

We found the joke on YouTube, watched Jones deliver it, and concluded that no offense was meant.  On the contrary, the punch line makes the Jewish merchant look like a winner in outfoxing the boorish Taliban fighter.

Some folks don't know how to listen to and enjoy a joke.  And this one wasn't offensive, derogatory, or dirty.  In fact, we would have included it in this blog as a classic Jewish joke without any hesitation.

But just in case you haven't seen Jones tell the joke, we're bringing it to you here.  So watch it as it was delivered at the forum.  You be the judge.  Here's the video clip, followed by the complete text of the joke as told.  And if you agree or disagree with our judgment, we welcome your comments.

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.’
(Photo:  telegraph.co.uk)


  1. I disagree. I find the joke (and the introduction to it-setting the stage for his remarks) offensive. Change the characters to any other ethnicity, and it isn't funny. It is only funny because of the ethic groups involved. Jew in desert (Israel) isn't willing to give anything to Taliban (Arab).

  2. A joke is merely an inference to truth. What is the message that this high level government official wants to convey to his audience? It certainly doesn't infer a commitment on the part of the United States to Israel. It infers that Jews are cheap, and can't be trusted. In this environment where anti-semitism is rampant world-wide, he needed to present a different joke. If a Jew said the joke to a fellow Jew, it is acceptable. However, this was an important speech made at an important time in terms of Israel's relationship to the U.S.