As first noted by the Jewish newspaper The Forward, at an event last week at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy – a pro-Israel think tank – National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones (Ret.) told a joke about a “Jewish merchant” that didn’t sit well with everyone.
While many in the largely Jewish audience laughed, others didn’t find it so funny, including Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
“It's inappropriate,” Foxman told ABC News. “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.”
The Forward noted that the “joke drew a wave of laughs and applause from participant” but it went on to report that an anonymous “prominent think-tank source who attended the event said the joke was ‘wrong in so many levels’ and that it ‘demonstrated a lack of sensitivity.’ The source also asked: ‘Can you imagine him telling a black joke at an event of African Americans?’”
Jones tells the joke “in order to set the stage for my remarks,” and then proceeds to tell the story of a “member of the Taliban separated from his fighting party.” The Taliban member stumbles upon a shack, which it turns out is a "little store owned by a Jewish merchant.'
“I need water,” the Taliban fighter says to the merchant. “Get me some water.”
“I'm sorry I don’t have any water but would you like to buy a tie?” the merchant says. “We have a nice sale of ties today.”
The Taliban warrior goes on a tirade against the merchant, against Jews, about Israel. “I need water you try to sell me ties, you people don’t get it.”
"Well I'm sorry I don’t have water for you,” the merchant says, “I forgive you for all of the insults you’ve levied against me, my family, my country…But I will help you out."
The merchant steers the Taliban towards a restaurant two miles away.
“They have all the water you'll need,” the merchant says.
The Taliban fighter walks towards the restaurant, then returns about an hour later.
"Your brother tells me I need a tie to get in the restaurant,” he says.
“To make fun of Jews in terms of ‘Jews won’t help you in need, Jews want to sell to you?’ Whoa!” Foxman says. “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.”
On the other hand, a Jewish member of Congress, asked for a response to Jones’ joke, told ABC News, “Lighten up.”
You can watch Jones tell the joke – and hear the crowd respond — HERE.
The joke was not in the transcript of the remarks that the White House provided, which you can read HERE. The White House had no response to questions about the joke, nor did anyone explain why the joke wasn’t in the official transcript.
Foxman called the incident “sad” and said Jones is a “decent human being.”
Said Foxman, “It’s why some people shouldn’t tell jokes.”
National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones issued the following statement about his comments:
“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.”