Jones missed the joke’s real punchline *UPDATED*

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to today’s news, you’ve already heard about the fact that Obama’s National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones told a “joke” that is premised on two Jewish merchants taking advantage of a dangerously dehydrated Talibani:

I’d like to begin with a story that I think is true, a Taliban militant gets lost and is wandering around the desert looking for water. He finally arrives at a store run by a Jew and asks for water. The Jewish vendor tells him he doesn’t have any water but can gladly sell him a tie. The Taliban, the jokes goes on, begins to curse and yell at the Jewish storeowner. The Jew, unmoved, offers the rude militant an idea: Beyond the hill, there is a restaurant; they can sell you water. The Taliban keeps cursing and finally leaves toward the hill. An hour later he’s back at the tie store. He walks in and tells the merchant: “Your brother tells me I need a tie to get into the restaurant.”

Oh, those clever, greedy Jews!

Had Jones been possessed of a long history of philosemitism, the joke might have been less offensive.  After all, we all acknowledge that, within a community, people are allowed to rough each other up a little with jokes.  (The ultimate example of this, of course, is the fact that African Americans are comfortable calling each other the “n” word, a word completely unacceptable from anyone outside of the African American community.)

Jones, however, is not a philosemite.  As Yid With Lid reports, “It was Jones who put together the team of Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski to meet with the President and advise him to impose a solution on Israel.”  This was not the loving joke of an insider but was, instead, a mean-spirited ad lib.

But here’s the really funny thing, showing that the joke is on Jones himself.  Not only is that little story visibly hostile to Jews, something that doesn’t reflect well on Jones, it also shows that he’s woefully uninformed about Islam, something that’s a little scary for a National Security Advisor.  You see — Muslims won’t wear ties, probably even if they’re thirsty.

Bottom line:  If you’re going to tell a racist joke, get your facts right.

UPDATE:  There is a lot of debate in email threads to which I belong about whether the joke was indeed antisemitic.  My take continues to be that the person who told the joke matters.  If Jones had the warm cuddlies to Jews, I’d laugh; as it is, I doubt his motives, which makes it harder to laugh.  The Anchoress, however, looks at the joke itself, and has a very different and interesting take on the whole thing.

UPDATEDJones has apologized.  He was right to do so.  Even if not antisemitic, the person telling the joke, the timing and the venue mean it was pretty much the equivalent of a girlie j0ke told to a group of grandmothers.  Just out of place.

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  • TommyC

    In general, when making a joke during a speech or a lecture, the joke makes or reinforces a point that the speaker  wishes to make.  I don’t consider the joke to be anti-Semitic, but what is the point?  The only possibilities that I can come up with leave me a bit concerned.  Hopefully Jones just made a bit of a muff trying to be funny and wasn’t trying to make a point at all.

  • Earl

    Thanks TommyC – you’ve voiced the question that bedeviled *me* from the first time I heard about this. To what purpose was this “joke” told?  What point did it illustrate?  WHY was such a story relevant to what General Jones was saying?
    “a bit of a muff trying to be funny” is absolutely the kindest interpretation that I can imagine for this episode.  As an exercise, imagine that Rush had told a comparable story with different protagonists…I’m just sure he’d be cut the same kind of slack that General Jones is, right…………right?

  • Ymarsakar

    Jones is one of those peace time generals. Wants to mess around in the world because men like McChrystal and Petraeus showed just how much of a buffoon he was at his self-chosen career.
    So he went and chose another career.

  • TommyC

    Earl, of course you are correct.  This is the perfect example of the sort of thing where if a conservative said it, it would be proof he was anti-Semitic, but since  a liberal said it, he merely misspoke, used poor judgment, whatever.  So why am I giving him the benefit of a doubt?  Because I was raised that way, I guess.  I can’t think of any other reason.

  • Ymarsakar

    If a Christian had said it, they would be labeled an extremist, a believer in bringing down the Armageddon on the Jews.

  • Mike

    These people are so out of touch with reality it’s not funny. That particular joke has been around in emails for a few years. There is also a youtube video about Achmed the terrorist and quite a lot of other stuff that I’ve seen but forgotten about and not worth mentioning. Also a lot of things on this congress and so-called leader.

  • Doug

    It would have been funnier if the store owner was Scottish and the thirsty guy was English.  Now that’s a joke!


    Wrong place.
    Wrong time.
    Wrong audience.
    Wrong, wrong, wrong.

  • MacG

    The difficulty in determining whether it is good natured or not without the benefit of knowing the tellers heart is precisely why one should not tell these kinds of  jokes in public where many will assume the worst.  Bad judgment.
    As I learned a long time ago if you are going to tell an ethnic joke from a podium in order to not offend anyone you need to use an ethnicity that is no longer extant.  Using such a group no one can possibly be offended and everyone can join in laughter.  Since we can all use a laugh today I will give an example lampooning the ancient Hittites:
    There were these two Hittites named Sven and Olly…

  • Charles Martel

    MacG, good one!

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  • bernieg1

    MacG, amusing take on the matter, however…
    I commented at another blog that all jokes are offensive.  A story about groups that can no longer be offended cannot be funny.  For example:
    Q: How was copper wire invented?
    A: Two Hittites grabbed the same Penny.
    This is not funny because it offends no one.
    On the other hand, if said in the UK substitute Scotsmen for Hittites, or in the US substitute Jews  for Hittites, or in Malaysia use Chinese instead and you have a knee-slapper.  Every culture in the world has the proper ethnic group to offend.
    If it’s not offensive – it’s merely chatter, it’s certainly not a joke.

  • suek

    Interesting observation.  I think maybe it’s because jokes depend on stereotypes – either reinforcing them or contradicting them.  Many people find _any_ stereotype to be offensive, hence the joke that stereotypes is offensive, and the “joke” that doesn’t stereotype isn’t offensive and isn’t funny either.