Was Jones' Joke Anti-Semitic? UPDATE

President Obama’s National Security Advisor, retired General James Jones, with an ice-breaker:

Is it offensive?

Why, yes. In our easily-offended society, you might say this joke wins the Triple Crown or the Insult Trifecta:

Some feel Jones has used a denigrating stereotype of Jewish people “greedy merchants” for a cheap laugh, and has therefore insulted the Jews.

Some free-market capitalists note that Jones describes the Taliban member as a “warrior” instead of a guerrilla, and seems to be saying that the capitalists are inhumane -too concerned with profit-making to give a thirsty man a glass of water. He therefore has insulted all free-market, entrepreneurial capitalists.

Somewhere, undoubtedly, there is a Taliban supporter who feels the “warrior” was portrayed as an unprepared and easily-duped hothead too stupid to know how much water he would need for the desert. Jones has therefore inflicted indignity upon the Taliban, and probably has a fatwa on his head, now.

Is it anti-Semitic?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

Presumably, the Taliban member was of Arab descent (or not, it seems, see comments), which would make him a Semite, as well. If one takes any of the views listed above, then the joke portrays both Arab and Jew negatively, and it is anti-Semitic.

Otherwise, it is just the usual Jew-and-Capitalism hate we have seen before.

Yid with the Lid, who is offended, writes:

Was the Joke Anti-Semitic? Well, the White House must have thought so. The White House transcript sent to reporters after the event conveniently began a couple of minutes into the speech. The video of the event posted on the Washington Institute Web site started right after the Joke, you can even hear the end of the laughter.

Its interesting that the same President that sees racism in the legitimate actions of the Cambridge Police and the State of Arizona, hides the anti-Semitic prose of its National Security Adviser.

To which I say, for all anyone knows, the White House might have omitted the joke from its transcripts because it was too pro-Jew for their tastes!

Consider: The Jewish haberdasher is portrayed as clever; he is unmoved by the threats-and-curses-issuing Taliban member; he forgives him the outburst before sending him to the restaurant over the hill. The Jew ultimately defeats the Taliban, who must submit to him -and his brother- before he can get a glass of water. And he makes a little profit, in the meantime. What’s not to like?

As a joke, Jones’ little icebreaker works. It has identifiable “types” (angry Arab, clever Jew) and has an ironic twist at the end.

As anti-Semitism, it will have its supporters. It will make Jew-haters laugh at the “greedy Jews,” and Arab-haters laugh at the “duped” Taliban.

As ideology, it will make socialists sneer at the “inhumane capitalists,” while the capitalists will call this confirmation of their worst suspicions of this administration.

All-in-all, I’d call it a very unwise joke for a security advisor to The American President to make, especially if the president is trying to convince the nation -by his words more than his actions- that he supports capitalism and the free market, the existence of Israel and the defeat of the Taliban.

The truth is the joke would have been inappropriate under any president; the White House and its administrators should never be in the business of laughing at anyone but themselves, because other-directed humor signals insecurity; self-denigrating humor does the opposite.

A joke, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and -to some extent- so is a slur. How one receives a thing says much more about oneself than any joke or compliment or hateful remark.

The world is in the process of gearing up to hate the Jews some more, as it always has before. The world hates the chosen people because they are uniquely God’s own. It hates those grafted onto that vine, too, for the same reason. If the past few decades have taught us anything, it is that people cannot be forced to like other people; “niceness” cannot be legislated and unfathomable hate cannot be reasoned with, because reason has nothing to do with it.

We are told that we are living in a “transformative” time. But the transformation is an illusion, because it is only about the world, and thus will be forever caught up in the snares of the world. After the “transformation” has been achieved there will still be war, still always be injustice, still be imbalance and poverty. There will still be one group of people standing around cackling at and hating another group of people. T’was ever thus, and t’will continue, until the end of ages.

And perhaps the Jews are forever the target of the world’s hatred because they have known, from the very start, that there will be an “end” to this world.

For those who are only of this world, invested in this world, that message can only be most unwelcome.

This is why they hate the Christians, too.

The world and its princes are desperately insecure;
they are afraid, because all they know is what is before their faces, what they imagine they “have.” When they laugh at you, laugh back. Teetering on their illusory foundations, they cannot handle being mocked.

Ed Morrissey: Polls whether the joke is anti-semitic

Bookworm says: Jones missed the real punchline

Powerline says:
wrong venue

UPDATE: Jones has apologized:

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.

Sometimes things happen for reasons. Jones’ clumsy joke may result in the administration going out of its way to emphasize that commitment, for a while.

Douthat: On Southpark
Riehl and Jacobson imagine other scenarios.
Roger Simon: Notes South Park irony
Hazony: Freedom needs defending and humor is freedom
Maggie’s Farm: Come to the Cabaret?
Jennifer Rubin: Off the cuff, her foot
I rather support this, but agree with Ann Althouse about this.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Dave M. (now in S. Korea)

    The joke was hilarious. I look at it as the Jewish merchant and his brother getting one over on a Taliban terrorist. Let’s lighten up people and stop acting like the left.

  • http://walnlar@socal.rr.com Uncle Waltee

    That was humor! I laughed and enjoyed it. Of course I’m not “politically correct” just like 70% of the rest of America.
    I have many Jewish friends and a few Muslem friends and they would laugh too. It was a classic joke.
    What’s wrong with America is it’s too filled with “weenies” that have no sense of humor!

    Uncle Waltee

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    “I apologize to anyone who was offended by it”

    So, for those who were not offended by it, Jones apparently stands by what he said.

    Come on, man up and make a real apology.

    (Are there still people out there who do not instantly recognize these weasel “apologies” for what they are? Apparently so.)

  • Pingback: The reason why Politico’s should never do stand up comedy | Political Byline

  • http://j3b3.wordpress.com jb

    Idiocity—in every direction . . .

    And absolutely zero to worry about, unless you work for Mountains & Molehill, Inc.


  • John C.

    Thank you, Steve Rosenbach #22. Give the guy a break! The joke was funny.

  • http://freealabamastan.blogspot.com Paul A’Barge

    “Is it anti-Semitic?

    Maybe yes, maybe no.”

    Yes. No maybe about it. Want to know why? Because Jews across the entire political spectrum are railing (justifiably) about this insult. And these people have impeccable antisemitism radar.

    I have to tell you, only a Catholic would hear this joke and describe it as “maybe no”(t) antisemitic.

    [Well, there are a number of Jew, including those here, who are not offended or calling it "anti-semitic." Apparently not "only a Catholic" could here this and actually think about it, rather than simply reacting. But thanks for showing up with your usual anti-Catholic stuff. We needed it. -admin]

  • Greta

    First, I want to go right to the end where the National Security Advisor to the President makes an apology…
    “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.”
    Now Anchoress, being of religious thought, I find the last sentence and the last word in that sentence interesting, “Sacrosanct”

    Does this now mean that the USA commitment to Israel is “very sacred or holy; inviolable”? According to definition, the word comes from the Latin word “sacrōsanctus” meaning “made holy by sacred rite”. So this should send a message to the Muslims that the White House had a “sacred rite” and that their relationship with Israel is now “sacred and inviolable.” That should go over well with Muslims who look very hard at words with religious meaning.

    Does this crew know how to do anything right?

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny L.

    “I think the main point is how inappropriate it is to that setting – which leaves Jews wondering what the submerged part of the iceberg looks like.” -Ben-David

    Perfectly said. It’s one thing to for guys to say this kind of thing in a locker room, but when a high official from the administration, an administration that has built up a series of anti-Israeli policies and signals, does this, it is not just mildly anti-semitic, it becomes a glimpse into their mindset.

  • Rand Careaga

    @Sashland – I hesitate to weigh in on this, but I have a few Jewish associates (variously friends, colleagues, acquaintances) who are not at all shy about proclaiming that their first loyalty is to Israel. Since I regard nationalism (including US nationalism) as just another form of tribalism, I’m not disposed to disparage that particular choice of allegiance over any other, or to endorse your notion that the imputation of such allegiance in a given instance is necessarily a slur.

  • Trump

    You know why that stupid joke is HIGHLY offensive to me (a jew?) Because if a Tea Partier or Republican had said it, we’d be into hour 12 of massive hand-wringing and carping about how racist, anti-semitic etc etc we are.

    Make them play by their rules – Alinsky.

  • Trump

    “What’s wrong with America is it’s too filled with “weenies” that have no sense of humor!”

    >>>> Sure, it is a funny joke…..so what? If you can’t joke about Mohammed and Islam, I don’t see why my people can’t get equal treatment. And you catholics should get in on that also ;)

    Make them play by their own rules – Alinsky

  • glossy

    obama = the end of america

  • jeanneb

    That’s right.

    It’s the “OK for me, but not for Thee” nature of this. The joke relied on stereotype: the WORST offense, according the usual scolds in the media.

    But, since it was delivered by one of their side, it gets a pass.

    Oh so familiar. Those same scolds told us EVERYTHING was sexual harassment….until Clinton fooled around with an intern. Then “sex” and “private lives” were no one’s business.

  • Pingback: “Wrong In So Many Levels” – Jones’ Joke « Lioness

  • Mark Chellis

    I am a gentile, born-again believer and a staunch supporter of God’s chosen people, the Jews. I thought the joke was funny. The Bud commercials (how you doin) used to make fun of lily white guys such as myself. I thought they were very funny. I am sick to death of all the trumped up outrage generated by PC run amock. I’m glad I’m part of an ethnic group people feel free to make jokes about. How sad to have people feel like they have to tip toe around on glass so as to avoid offending.

  • Ellen

    I thought it was kinda funny, and I don’t get my knickers in a knot over humor – even tasteless jokes. But Trump is right. If Sarah Palin had said this, we’d have 24/7 indignation from the press.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Because, of course, a “few Jewish associates” of Rand’s is incontrovertible proof that all Jews, everywhere, do have divided loyalties and—and what? They can’t be trusted? They should be excluded from government? All gentiles should be suspicious of them? That’s it’s never, ever, been used as a slur, or to insult Jews?

    Of course, I remember when everyone was worried that President Kennedy, Catholic that he was, would take his marching orders from the Pope. . .

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Also, isn’t it a good idea for a security adviser to talk about, well—security, as opposed to telling lame ethnic jokes?

    If nothing else, it shows he might not take his job real seriously.

  • Funnyguy

    He doesn’t tell the joke very well, but it’s an old joke, actually, mildly funny, and I am absolutely at a loss as to how anyone, save the humorless, could be offended by this. Man, people are uptight now.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Our sense of humor has become so foreshortened by incessant political correctness and concern about ethnic insults that we overreact to stereotypes without thinking about the real meaning of those images in the particular story.

    I have heard the joke before, usually told by a Jewish comedian. It is an old joke that probably made the rounds in the Catskill Mountain resorts in New York for decades, where a good part of the audience and the performers were both Jewish. It is not simple stereotyping of Jews as greedy merchants. Rather, it is a subversive tale of revenge on those who are the enemies of Jews, whether it is a rich anti-semitic American like Henry Ford or, these days, a Muslim enemy of the Jews.

    It comes from the same source as the B’rer Rabbit stories, about the weaker person winning through wileyness. Even though such stories are criticized today because they partake of various stereotypes, they originated in a time when the insults to Jews and blacks were a constant feature of everyday life, so humorous stories were an opportunity to get back at the oppressors, to turn the tables and show that the weak would win in the end.

    The setting is totally surreal. No real merchant would set up shop in the desert with a business plan of selling neckties to lost people wandering in from the wilderness. Nor would his brother make a profit from locating his restaurant in the same unlikely location. The Jewish tie merchant and his brother do not exist in this realm to make a profit, but to torment the Taliban. What it describes is a Taliban insurgent’s idea of Hell.

    And that is why a military officer, an enemy of the Taliban, is telling the story. The moral of the story is Jews=one, Taliban=zero.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    By the way, modern advances in DNA research and computerized family history research are revealing that many of us who are not Jewish had ancestors who were. One recent study found that 25% of Spanish men had the Cohen Y chromosome marker indicating direct patrilineal descent from Jews. The earliest recorded direct patrilineal ancestor of my Swedish great-grandfather had a Jewish name. There is great concern these days about the Jews assimilating in America through mixed marriages, but that has been going on for a long time. My own ancestors include Catholics from Italy and Lutherans from Denmark and Russian Orthodox–from Japan. We should teach our children that if they want to insult any ethnicity, they may well be insulting the ancestors of themselves or their future spouse and children. Reality blurs our ethnic identities.

    I wonder if anyone has done a study looking for the Cohen gene among the Palestinians? If it survives in a nation that was under Moslem rule for centuries, it is likely to survive in the original home of Judah and Levi.

  • http://plancksconstant.org/blog1/2010/04/most_antisemitic_jokes_are_compliments.html bernie

    All jokes are offensive. There is no such thing as a joke that does not offend someone.

    My wife laughs when I stub my toe but would cry if I were truly hurt. As long as the joke is not accompanied by a stab to the heart, then I say, let it be said.

    If we continue to be so thin-skinned, there will come a day when we wake up to find no humor in the world for fear of offending someone somewhere.

    I say, Lighten up everybody.

    And yes I am a Jew.