Jones and the Jews: You Must be Kidding

National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones, on "Face the Nation," Oct. 4, 2009.
National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones, on "Face the Nation," Oct. 4, 2009.
National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones, on "Face the Nation," Oct. 4, 2009.
So a priest, a minister and a rabbi - and a general - walk into a bar..."

Another week, another crisis in the latest installment of "Perennially Pissed Off Nation, 2010."

This time the sensitive souls expressing outrage went ballistic over the warm-up joke that the president's National Security adviser made during a presentation to a pro-Israel Washington think tank last week.

Here's a link to the offending clip of General James Jones, trying to do shtick. (OK, I can understand some of the ire; the routine does need a little work.)

In order to set the stage for my remarks I'd just like to tell you a story that I think is true. It happened recently in southern Afghanistan. A member of the Taliban was separated from his fighting party and wandered around for a few days in the desert, lost, out of food, no water. And he looked on the horizon and he saw what looked like a little shack and he walked towards that shack. And as he got to it, it turned out it was a little store own by a Jewish merchant. And the Taliban warrior went up to him and said, 'I need water, give me some water.' And the merchant said, 'I'm sorry, I don't have any water but would you like a tie. We have a nice sale of ties today.'"

"Whereupon the Taliban erupted into a stream of language that I can't repeat, about Israel, about Jewish people, about the man himself, about his family, and just said, 'I need water, you try to sell me ties, you people don't get it.' The merchant stood there until the Taliban was through with his diatribe and said, 'Well I'm sorry I don't have water for you and I forgive you for all of the insults you've levied against me, my family, my country. But I will help you out. If you go over that hill and walk about two miles there is a restaurant there and they will have all the water you need.' And the Taliban, instead of saying thanks, still muttering under his breath, disappears over the hill, only to come back an hour later, and walking up to the merchant says, 'You're brother tells me a I need a tie to get into the restaurant.'"

That's it? OK, Henny Youngman, he's not. But we're not talking about the second coming of Haman, either. After reading the reactions to Jones' joke, though, you would have thought that the beleaguered soldier-diplomat had shook up the crowd with a few gratuitous references to Shylock, the Elders of the Protocol of Zion - or, at the very least, a disparaging comment about  my personal hero, Sandy Koufax. Still, more than a few critics projected onto Jones - and by extension, the Obama White House - positions that one normally associates with your garden-variety anti-Semite.

 The most interesting takeaway from this eminently forgettable affair was the reaction from the familiar roster on the right. Turns out that this crew, which can be depended upon to issue scarifying denunciations of political correctness was, well, as priggishly politically correct as their left-wing counterparts. A representative sample:

  • Atlas Shrugged: led with the headline "Obama NSA Adviser's Vile Anti-Semetic (sic) Jokes To DC Audience" before going on to blast Obama for his "weakness and partiality to antisemitism."
  • Gateway Pundit:"Obama's National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones Ret. cracked a greedy Jew joke during a key note speech at a Washington Institute For Near East Policy last's interesting that the same President that see racism in the legitimate actions of the Cambridge Police and the State of Arizona, hides the anti-Semitic prose of its National Security Adviser."

  • Hot Air:"Jones shot himself in the foot with his delivery. Not only did he painfully parse through what should have been a quick joke, but Jones has a particular bias in his political correctness. He carefully uses "Taliban militant" instead of "Muslim terrorist" or just "Muslim," which would make more sense for this joke than setting it in Afghanistan, where Jewish shopkeepers are, needless to say, rare. "

  • William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection">: "I have no problem with the joke. I think we have to be able to laugh at ourselves, including laughing at stereotypes; in humor we often expose the stereotype rather than build upon it...That said, this is another one of those "can you imagine" moments. Substitute blacks or latinos or gays or almost any other group for Jews, and the joke playing on old stereotypes never would have been told by Jones. And if it were, Jones already would be gone from the administration."

  • Andrew Breitbart: Obama's National Security Advisor Tells Joke Depicting Jews as Greedy Merchants."

On and on it went all day as the sharks joined the frenzy. Boy, that was fast. We've already moved on from "Obama is a socialist" to "Obama is a Jew-hater?" The speed of that transition was impressive - even for America, where the half life of political discourse is measured in nanoseconds. I guess you don't need to be a Borscht Belt graduate to learn the lesson of the day: Humor, it seems, depends upon whose ox is being gored. As always.

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.