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
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.