Commentary Magazine


Topic: James Jones Apologizes

RE: James Jones Apologizes for Jewish Joke

I’m afraid that I have to disagree with my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, J.E. Dyer, and John Steele Gordon on the hot topic of James Jones’s Jewish joke. When I first read about what I supposed was a derogatory ethnic stereotype, I assumed it was offensive. But while I’m not exactly known for having much of a sense of humor, when I watched it online — like many of those supporters of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs in attendance at the event whose guffaws can be heard on the soundtrack — I laughed.

I know, I know. It’s a tactical error for anyone who is not a member of the ethnic/religious group featured in the joke to tell one. So we can all agree that General Jones was a dope for telling the joke. As if the policies he has pursued as President Obama’s national security adviser weren’t enough evidence of his lack of saykhel (common sense).

But the outrage from some administration critics strikes me as, well, a bit overblown. The Jewish merchant in the joke who tries to sell a tie rather than water to a lost and thirsty member of the Taliban who wanders into his stall in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Afghanistan does not strike me as the usual greedy or money-hungry protagonist of anti-Semitic stereotypes. He doesn’t try to cheat the Taliban fighter. He is, instead, the victim of the latter’s anti-Semitic abuse. The conclusion of the joke in which the merchant gets his revenge on the Taliban illustrates the man’s savvy, not his avarice.

For some of us who worry about the alarming spread of anti-Semitic stereotypes, any reference to a Jewish merchant is a potential source of abuse. And many of us may think — not without justification — that the preferred way for a Jew to get even with the monsters of the Taliban and other Islamist terrorists is with an Uzi or a well-placed bomb from a pilotless drone, not a dress code at a restaurant. But this was a joke, not a tactical air strike or a revenge fantasy. It may strike you as funny or leave you cold. But either way, it’s not as if Jones’s attempt at humor is going to be repeated by Jew-haters around the world.

Even more to the point, Jones and his boss have given us more than enough material for criticism without having to spend any time on their comedy choices. This administration’s animus toward Israel is a matter of record. It has gone far beyond even the most hostile of its predecessors on the subject of Jerusalem, making an issue of the building of Jewish homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods and giving every indication that it intends to promulgate a “peace” plan that might attempt to force even more Jews out of their homes than even previous schemes have tried to do. Even worse, through its feckless “engagement” of Iran and inept diplomacy aimed at stopping that Islamist regime’s nuclear project, it has demonstrated that it is prepared to live with an Iranian bomb that presents an existential threat to Israel as well as endangering the rest of the world.

Compared to that record, one ill-considered though (in my opinion) funny joke is not worth carping about.

I’m afraid that I have to disagree with my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, J.E. Dyer, and John Steele Gordon on the hot topic of James Jones’s Jewish joke. When I first read about what I supposed was a derogatory ethnic stereotype, I assumed it was offensive. But while I’m not exactly known for having much of a sense of humor, when I watched it online — like many of those supporters of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs in attendance at the event whose guffaws can be heard on the soundtrack — I laughed.

I know, I know. It’s a tactical error for anyone who is not a member of the ethnic/religious group featured in the joke to tell one. So we can all agree that General Jones was a dope for telling the joke. As if the policies he has pursued as President Obama’s national security adviser weren’t enough evidence of his lack of saykhel (common sense).

But the outrage from some administration critics strikes me as, well, a bit overblown. The Jewish merchant in the joke who tries to sell a tie rather than water to a lost and thirsty member of the Taliban who wanders into his stall in the middle of nowhere somewhere in Afghanistan does not strike me as the usual greedy or money-hungry protagonist of anti-Semitic stereotypes. He doesn’t try to cheat the Taliban fighter. He is, instead, the victim of the latter’s anti-Semitic abuse. The conclusion of the joke in which the merchant gets his revenge on the Taliban illustrates the man’s savvy, not his avarice.

For some of us who worry about the alarming spread of anti-Semitic stereotypes, any reference to a Jewish merchant is a potential source of abuse. And many of us may think — not without justification — that the preferred way for a Jew to get even with the monsters of the Taliban and other Islamist terrorists is with an Uzi or a well-placed bomb from a pilotless drone, not a dress code at a restaurant. But this was a joke, not a tactical air strike or a revenge fantasy. It may strike you as funny or leave you cold. But either way, it’s not as if Jones’s attempt at humor is going to be repeated by Jew-haters around the world.

Even more to the point, Jones and his boss have given us more than enough material for criticism without having to spend any time on their comedy choices. This administration’s animus toward Israel is a matter of record. It has gone far beyond even the most hostile of its predecessors on the subject of Jerusalem, making an issue of the building of Jewish homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods and giving every indication that it intends to promulgate a “peace” plan that might attempt to force even more Jews out of their homes than even previous schemes have tried to do. Even worse, through its feckless “engagement” of Iran and inept diplomacy aimed at stopping that Islamist regime’s nuclear project, it has demonstrated that it is prepared to live with an Iranian bomb that presents an existential threat to Israel as well as endangering the rest of the world.

Compared to that record, one ill-considered though (in my opinion) funny joke is not worth carping about.

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James Jones Apologizes for Jewish Joke

As I noted in this morning’s Flotsam and Jetsam, James Jones made a tasteless Jewish joke last week at the 25th anniversary of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Fox News reports: “Interestingly, it was not included in the official White House-provided transcript of the speech.” Indeed.

There has been some additional reaction — New York Magazine has a roundup of those who have commented on it. Now, sensing the brewing storm, Jones has apologized. Politico provides Jones’s statement today:

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.

Ben Smith also reports, “White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that the White House had ‘no intention to deceive’ in leaving the remarks off a transcript off the event, which he said were in fact the prepared text. He said the White House hadn’t asked for Jones’ apology which ‘rightly speaks for itself.'”

Let’s unpack this. First of all, I don’t believe the joke was made up on the spur of the moment. That’s not how these things work. As a reader pointed out to me, it’s quite likely that not only Jones but also a speechwriter or two thought there was nothing much wrong with this. Second, for an administration under criticism for insensitivity or outright animus in relation to Israel, why play with fire? If nothing else, this confirms the criticism of Jones — he’s a bit of a buffoon.

And finally, why didn’t the president demand an apology? Was he not alarmed that his national security adviser is cracking Jewish-merchant jokes?

It’s another reminder that what is said and done in this White House with regard to Israel would not be said or done in virtually any other administration.

As I noted in this morning’s Flotsam and Jetsam, James Jones made a tasteless Jewish joke last week at the 25th anniversary of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Fox News reports: “Interestingly, it was not included in the official White House-provided transcript of the speech.” Indeed.

There has been some additional reaction — New York Magazine has a roundup of those who have commented on it. Now, sensing the brewing storm, Jones has apologized. Politico provides Jones’s statement today:

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.

Ben Smith also reports, “White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday that the White House had ‘no intention to deceive’ in leaving the remarks off a transcript off the event, which he said were in fact the prepared text. He said the White House hadn’t asked for Jones’ apology which ‘rightly speaks for itself.'”

Let’s unpack this. First of all, I don’t believe the joke was made up on the spur of the moment. That’s not how these things work. As a reader pointed out to me, it’s quite likely that not only Jones but also a speechwriter or two thought there was nothing much wrong with this. Second, for an administration under criticism for insensitivity or outright animus in relation to Israel, why play with fire? If nothing else, this confirms the criticism of Jones — he’s a bit of a buffoon.

And finally, why didn’t the president demand an apology? Was he not alarmed that his national security adviser is cracking Jewish-merchant jokes?

It’s another reminder that what is said and done in this White House with regard to Israel would not be said or done in virtually any other administration.

Read Less




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