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.
A follow-up to Olmert’s day of disgrace. Here’s the veteran political commentator Sima Kadmon, on the revelations about Ehud Olmert’s financial dealings:
In a word: Disgusting. And even that doesn’t serve to fully express the sense of nausea that emerges from the testimony of donor and fundraiser Morris Talansky, who for 15 years, it appears, made sure to maintain the lavish lifestyle of an Israeli mayor and minister.
The testimony that was heard Tuesday at the Jerusalem District Court is not only dramatic; it’s shocking. It is shocking that a public servant demands and receives cash donations, with no receipts, and without any records being kept. It is shocking to think that such senior public figure uses the credit card of an American Jew in order to finance his expenses.
It is shocking that an Israeli public servant receives a $25,000 gift in order to finance a family vacation. It is shocking that a public figure receives gifts worth tens of thousands of shekels for first class upgrades, luxury hotels, restaurants, and vacations. It is shocking to hear about huge loans that were never paid back, even though they loaner demanded payment.
It is possible that parts of the testimony we heard Tuesday are untrue. Other parts may be inaccurate. There are also things that must have an explanation. And perhaps it will turn out that there was no criminal offense here. Yet the behavior described by Talansky is embarrassing and revolting even if we weren’t talking about a public figure: There is nothing sexy about people who live at the expense of others only to satisfy their desires and ostentatious lifestyle. It is much more shocking and horrifying when we are talking about a minister in the Israeli government.
Kadmon’s feelings reflect a wave of revulsion currently sweeping the Israeli media over the Olmert affair. Yet there’s something a little strange about it. Maybe it’s because I live in Jerusalem, where Olmert reigned as mayor for eight years, and every cab driver seems to know about his corruption. Or maybe it’s just that everybody in Israel already knew that this stuff went on, but it never really made the newspapers, and the official public discourse insisted on being much more naive than the man-in-the-street conventional wisdom.
One hopeful sign of the effect of all this loathing: The Olmert affair has the potential to do for financial accountability among public officials what the Katzav affair did for sexual misconduct. As Haaretz commentator Uzi Benziman put it today:
Just as the revelation of how former president Moshe Katsav behaved toward his female subordinates led to a decline in sexual harassment in the public service, so too a peek at Olmert’s behavior with regard to Talansky may well generate a real turning point in the pattern of relationships between the country’s leaders and wealthy Jews from abroad. So far, this seems to be Olmert’s only salient contribution during his term as prime minister.
It has been widely speculated that the structure in northern Syria attacked by Israel’s Air Force ten weeks ago was a fledgling nuclear reactor, along the lines of the one operating in North Korea. Now Professor Uzi Even, a senior chemist at Tel Aviv University, with a background in nuclear research, has come to challenge that theory. His challenge is based on a number of factors, most notably that if the structure were a reactor, it would be so far away from completion (no cooling towers yet, for example) as to call into question the need for an Israeli strike. His views are aired in a Haaretz op-ed by Yossi Melman.
Instead, Even proposes that the structure was something far more ominous: A processing plant for plutonium, for the purpose of creating a bomb. In other words, instead of needing a plant to make plutonium, they already may have it. Speculation? Perhaps. But it may explain the extreme veil of secrecy that both the Bush administration and the Israeli government continue to place over the entire affair. Melman quotes U.S. Representatives Peter Hoekstra and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, respectively the senior Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the senior Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as being troubled by the fact that the administration
has thrown an unprecedented veil of secrecy around the Israeli air strike. It has briefed only a handful of very senior members of Congress, leaving the vast majority of foreign relations and intelligence committee members in the dark. We are among the very few who were briefed, but we have been sworn to secrecy on this matter.
From what my own friends tell me of the Israeli strike, this was one of the most impressive and complex Israeli operations in decades. Whether it was a reactor or a plutonium processing plant, the West may owe Israel an even greater debt than it did with the Osiraq strike in 1981—which kept Saddam from getting the bomb. So can we please stop “engaging” Syria now?
Who won last summer’s Lebanon war, Israel or Hizballah? A year after combat ceased that question remains hotly controverted. If nothing else, the continuing debate is testimony to the ambiguous nature of the outcome between one of the world’s most powerful armies and the rag-tag Islamic militia that it faced.
Since neither side suffered a knock-out blow, what indicators, short of total defeat and surrender, can be employed to evaluate the conflict? Because Hizballah was fighting a rocket war, firing a variety of projectiles into Israel’s north, one key question that must be posed is: how effective was Hizballah’s rocket campaign, and how effective was Israel’s response?