A Muslim, a Jew, and the PC police wander into a joke …

posted at 1:36 pm on April 26, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

Did Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser, James Jones, expose some latent anti-Semitism by telling a joke at a Washington Institute For Near East Policy dinner? Or did he merely expose himself as someone who should avoid telling jokes at all in public? Breitbart TV and Yid with Lid argue the former:

YWL wants to put this in a larger context:

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 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.

I’d tend to disagree about intent. The joke itself makes fun of the “Taliban militant” more than the Jewish shopkeepers, and like many jokes, tends to play on the stereotypes of everyone in the joke. The classic “A priest, a minister, and a rabbi” jokes use stereotypes about everyone. In fact, one would be hard pressed to tell a joke about anyone or anything without some sense of exaggeration or generalization — which is what humor allows us to do. It goes without saying, though, that these kind of jokes work better as self-effacing humor told by those on the inside. A Jewish comedian would have gotten better laughs.

However, in this case, 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. It makes a lot more sense as a joke about Hamas or Hezbollah in Israel. Why such sensitivity towards Muslims but not toward Jews? That’s a fair question, and it makes the allegation from YWL and Breitbart more credible.

The biggest takeaway here is that Jones shouldn’t tell jokes from the stage, or anywhere else. Maybe he’s been consulting with Comedy Central execs.

What’s your opinion on this? Take the poll:

Update: Be sure to read Scott Johnson and John Hinderaker at Power Line for their take on this. They make a good point about venue and context — and given the Obama administration’s rough treatment of Israel these days, Jones would have been well advised to stick to policy. And The Anchoress analyzes this at length in a post well worth reading.

Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air



Trackback URL


Q. What can Saudi Arabia do to raise the average IQ in the country?
A. Allow Jews to come in.

Mr. Joe on April 26, 2010 at 10:42 PM

The joke appears to have originated from Jewish “Borscht Belt” comedian Jan Murray in 1978.

The real question is, why is the National Security Advisor telling old, lame jokes on the record?

barrypopik on April 26, 2010 at 11:34 PM

A member of al Qaeda in Iraq walks into his local mosque with a big grin on his face.

“What are you so happy about, Abdul?” Asks the Imam.

“Well, I’ll tell you,” replies Abdul. “I live by the railroad tracks and on my way home last night, I noticed a young woman tied to the rails, like in the American movies. I cut her free and took her back to my humble abode. Allah be praised – we made love all night, all around the tent. We did everything, me on top, sometimes her on top, every position permitted by Mohammed, Peace Be Upon Him!”

“By the most Merciful,” exclaimed the Imam, “you have been blessed. Was she as beautiful as a desert flower?”

Abdul grimaced, “By the Jinn, I do not know – I never found her head.”

Mr. Joe on April 26, 2010 at 11:45 PM

Where do they get these socially challenged people? Then the Pres made the racially charged statements about getting out the vote in 2010? I thought this was the PC party, not the Blue-Neck Party (the Dems answer to Red-Neck)….

DL13 on April 27, 2010 at 12:59 AM

Question to all who thought the joke was just fine:

What, exactly, does the word “Jewish” (as in “Jewish merchant”) contribute to the joke? Surely it is equally funny without it. So why go to the trouble of adding it (even disregarding the fact that there are probably zero “Jewish merchants” in Afghanistan anyway) unless it was to send a message to the audience?

And what message?

bofh on April 26, 2010 at 9:51 PM

The joke wouldn’t be equally funny without details. If you give zero information about the characters, the joke becomes very dry. People are already complaining about the presentation, and that would make it even worse. So you pick some details to make the mental image more interesting. But every detail you pick runs the risk of offended whatever group of people has that characteristic, whether you make the guy portly, skinny, bearded, etc. The less controversial the description the less interesting the joke becomes. So the general picks Jews, in perhaps an attempt to treat them like anyone else and yet grab the audience’s attention. There is no message other than that Jews are a group of people like anyone else that sometimes own shops and restaurants. Does anyone really think that a Jew characteristically would not give water to a desperate person? No, except for perhaps some over the top anti-semites. It’s not about money because the tie seller makes no attempt to actually sell water, and the restaurateur sends the guy away rather than sell the water. So it is not tied to an actual stereotype.

The fact that people know this guy and are reading his or Obama’s background into his remarks seems to be what is offending people. That makes them seem thin-skinned and humorless and does not help get out the message that should be made about the actual policies. I don’t know, perhaps ADL tried and Ed just didn’t pick up on that part because it is not interesting.

pedestrian on April 27, 2010 at 1:18 AM

So anyone see that lilly white poindexter “The Race Card”. You know the ultimate self-described champion of the anti-bigots?

Yeah, me either…what a pile of stool. Going to repost a bit.

My my, what a typical, lilly white hypocrite you are.

Cracks me up to read little white kids cowering behind the human shield of minority racism to give yourself political ammo. You really must be a new level of douche to co-op another race’s true suffering simply so you can score political points. For Christ’s sake, you pieces of filth libs have exploited the black community for their guaranteed votes, but not even that is enough.

I am picturing you right now with your shaved pubic hair glued to your head, sodomizing yourself with a David Duke branded marital aid screaming “Violate my civil liberties!”

ClassicCon on April 27, 2010 at 1:34 AM

I first read a version of this joke in the “NYC cabdriver’s joke book” in the late 80’s. It had no mention of race, religion or ethnicity, and was much funnier in it’s original version.

cliff notes (not meant to be funny)

guy dying of thirst in the desert.
runs into 3 merchants, one after another, who try to sell him increasingly cheaper ties. doesn’t bite.
finally finds an oasis.
gets shunned at the door for not having a tie.

again, it’s like adding politics and religion to a ‘chicken crossed the road’ joke.

why did the American President cross the road?
-because his **** was stuck in the chicken.

See? anyone can twist a joke to include polito-religious context into a joke, but it still doesn’t make it right, or any funnier.

viviliberoomuori on April 27, 2010 at 2:55 AM

The joke wouldn’t be equally funny without details.
pedestrian on April 27, 2010 at 1:18 AM

Which means, this set of details was needed to make the joke [more] funny. Which means, it depends in no small measure on the stereotype of the Jewish “merchant” — not shopkeeper, but merchant. Good Lord.

RD on April 27, 2010 at 3:01 AM

runs into 3 merchants, one after another, who try to sell him increasingly cheaper ties. doesn’t bite.
finally finds an oasis.
gets shunned at the door for not having a tie.

viviliberoomuori on April 27, 2010 at 2:55 AM

So in that version there are three merchants with increasingly cheaper ties. The plainest version is simply not that funny. There has to be some kind of story that makes a joke interesting in order for it to be funny.

pedestrian on April 27, 2010 at 3:04 AM

Only slightly OT: Jihadists infiltrating NYC and FL human rights councils — votes imminent — man the phones before it’s too late

SIOA CAMPAIGN OFFENSIVE: Fight for Removal of Un-indicted Co-Conspirator, Hamas linked CAIR Counsel/President and 911 Terror Lawyer From NYC Human Rights Commission

RD on April 27, 2010 at 3:09 AM

Which means, it depends in no small measure on the stereotype of the Jewish “merchant” — not shopkeeper, but merchant. Good Lord.

RD on April 27, 2010 at 3:01 AM

Not those details, just some details.

So now it is the word merchant that is a racist code word that people cannot use? Looking at wiki their are two kinds of merchant: wholesale merchants and retail merchants. I don’t know that ties are manufactured in Afghanistan, but being on the historical silk-road and being famous for rugs, it would not be too astonishing for that to be true. So one kind of merchant would be ok and the other racist?

pedestrian on April 27, 2010 at 3:10 AM

It may not be frank antisemitism, but it’s certainly a fine example of pandering to antisemitism.

The underlying joke is what it is; for me it’s the guy’s interpretation of the joke that was clearly Anti-Semitic.

Interpretative flourishes such as:

. Giving the wanderer a concrete identity (Taliban member) while giving da Joos cookie-cutter cutouts as “Jewish merchants“. (When was the last time you bought a tie or a cup of water from an effing “merchant”? On your last trip to Venice, perhaps?)

. Having the Taliban identity mean nothing to the joke itself, thus elevating Taliban membership to a nominal (and therefore respectable) identity — which ironically does more to promote Taliban cred than anything else out of CENTCOM or the White House in the last 8 years — while having the merchant’s Jewishness mean everything to the joke, thus demoting, in a public manner, the integrity of “the Jew” below that of the effing Taliban, for God’s sake.

. How dire the wanderer’s water loss is. The way Jones tells it, the guy’s not just “really thirsty” but is about to collapse from dehydration, and yet a pair of conniving Jews send him on a wild goose chase rather than help save a life. Perhaps not everybody read it this way but his dour style tended to lend a direness to the Taliban’s situation that made the “merchants” not just a couple of hustlers, but purveyors of evil and possibly criminal acts. Not really joke material in my opinion, and I think that’s what my biggest problem with it was.

Unless you assume that “Jew equals Shylock”, the religion of the shopkeeper adds no humor to the joke; there was no reason to add “Jewish [merchant]” other than to play to the expected latent antisemitism of the audience.

bofh on April 26, 2010 at 2:57 PM

Correct. Especially with the addition by Jones of ” merchant”.

The joke doesn’t make fun of the Taliban fellow at all; he’s portrayed as the victim of the conniving salesman and restaurant owner. There’s no humor at the Taliban guy’s expense at all.

Midas on April 26, 2010 at 2:44 PM

Amen. Which elevates the Taliban identity to a nominal level, while keeping that of the Jew at the level of debasement necessary to drive the joke’s humor premise.

Jeez. Much ado about nothing. I don’t see this as anti-Semitic, and I actually thought the punchline was funny. I also see nothing wrong with using the term “Taliban” instead of Muslim militant. If people find this offensive, it’s no wonder we can’t have Middle East peace.

Buy Danish on April 26, 2010 at 3:46 PM

Again, it’s not the underlying joke that’s so problematic, it’s Jones’s interpretation. The context / audience doesn’t help either, but a different interpretation could have avoided some of this grief.

RD on April 27, 2010 at 3:41 AM

Evidence: Yes, Abu Talhah al Amrike Really Did Threaten South Park Creators

MB4 on April 27, 2010 at 4:00 AM

I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, Everybody knows that Islam is the religion of piece… A piece of you here, a piece of you there and a piece of you blown clear up on the roof of the local Wally-World…

doriangrey on April 27, 2010 at 7:16 AM

Q. What do you say to a Pakistani at Christmas?
A. A quart of milk, a loaf of bread and a pack of Marlboros please.

Mr. Joe on April 27, 2010 at 7:46 AM

James Jones walks into a bar…..OW!!!

gordo on April 27, 2010 at 7:46 AM

Q. What do you call a Muslim between two houses?
A. Ali.

Mr. Joe on April 27, 2010 at 7:47 AM

My my, how many people who feel the joke was offensive also feel the reaction to the Muhammed cartoons is misplaced?

The problem may be in the treatment of the key person -is it a put down? Can you joke about serious religion, race or ethnicity, without being offensive? Is the Pope fair game but blacks or jews not? How come we don’t hear any jokes about abortionists going into bars?

Too many questions – too many ultra sensitive people or too many covert agendas?

Don L on April 27, 2010 at 8:59 AM

My my, how many people who feel the joke was offensive also feel the reaction to the Muhammed cartoons is misplaced?

Jews aren’t asking or demanding that General Jones be killed.

skatz51 on April 27, 2010 at 9:20 AM

I wonder what the body of his speech was about. That to me is what is most important, because he framed the joke as a preface to his remarks. If his remarks are about the building in the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, then doesn’t the joke seem to imply that Israel is dealing dishonestly with the Palestinians–that they are conniving, and can’t be trusted?

The joke itself fits into a broad category of Jewish joke, in which the wily Jew outwits the Gentile enemy. This kind of joke is typical of minority cultures (think Bre’er Rabbit and the Tarbaby) imagining themselves besting those who, too often, they are bested by. They are generally best kept as in-jokes, therefore. There are some great Jewish-rabbi-outwits-Grand Inquisitor jokes; I wouldn’t tell them at a Catholic event. Duh.

smellthecoffee on April 27, 2010 at 9:29 AM

While I didn’t find the joke offensive, I really didn’t get the punchline.

jediwebdude on April 27, 2010 at 9:45 AM

You might be Taliban if:

Your home doesn’t have drapes, but your camel does.

You can’t have sex with your first wife until she turns 13.

You have at least four brothers named Mohammed.

You refine heroin for a living, but have a “moral objection” to beer.

You own a $500 machine gun and $5,000 rocket launcher, but you can’t afford shoes.

You believe masturbation is evil but beating your wife is OK.

Your mother would be happier if you blew up into a million pieces.

You have more wives than teeth.

You think vests come in two styles, bullet proof and suicide.

You’ll kill anyone that says you’re not peaceful.

You wipe your butt with your bare hand, but consider bacon unclean.

Mr. Joe on April 27, 2010 at 10:19 AM

I’d tend to disagree about intent. The joke itself makes fun of the “Taliban militant” more than the Jewish shopkeepers, and like many jokes, tends to play on the stereotypes of everyone in the joke.

Actually, he called him a Taliban warrior, which I find to be just as offensive as the money-grubbing Jew stereotype if not more.

mizflame98 on April 27, 2010 at 3:32 PM

Mr. Joe on April 27, 2010 at 10:19 AM

That’s good. LOL!

mizflame98 on April 27, 2010 at 3:36 PM

What does Obama say before sex

Scream and I’ll kill you

Sonosam on April 27, 2010 at 4:22 PM

I did an impression of a general telling a joke to his troops. I stood in properly ‘military’ posture, and commanded, “Prepare to laugh. Laugh.”
I did not get as much laughter as I had hoped for. Multiple soldiers current, and past service, told me the problem is that that “Prepare to laugh. Laugh.” is funnier than any joke a general has ever told. You at least know your suppose to laugh.

The joke could have been far worse.

Slowburn on April 27, 2010 at 5:39 PM

The truth is that Jews like to repeat this joke becasue it makes Jews look clever and resourceful.

If there are Jews who are upset over this joke it’s because they don’t get it.

By the way, almost every Muslim joke in the world is in my archive: Muslim Humor – Muslim Jokes

bernieg1 on April 28, 2010 at 3:18 PM