Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Jones Apologizes for Controversial Humor

An old non-Jew tells a joke

Print Email

Did you hear the one about the non-Jewish top administration official who told a classic Jewish joke to a crowd containing lots of Jews? Yeah, not everyone found the punch line so funny.

General James Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, told a joke—video and transcription after the jump—that is easily recognizable as one of those jokes about Jews, making fun of stereotypical Jewish traits, that Jews tend to tell affectionately about each other. However, there’s an unwritten rule about these jokes that states that these aren’t really offensive … so long as it is a Jew telling them. Which is arguably fair, arguably unfair. But pretty clearly the reigning rule.

So anyway, Jones told the joke over the weekend last week at the 25th anniversary party for the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs. This is a generally pro-Israel think tank with many Jewish donors. And you can hear lots of laughter on the tape. (It’s a pretty funny joke!) But a think-tanker who was present said it “demonstrated a lack of sensitivity.” Then Abraham Foxman called it “inappropriate.” And, yup, Jones just apologized (“It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct”).

For what it’s worth, Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg doesn’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t feel offended, either, though I certainly also don’t see the point, and it was clearly a dumb thing to do. And you?

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 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.”

James Jones’s Jewish Joke—Funny or Inappropriate? [Forward/Haaretz]

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

Mike says:

Funny. Illustrates if we stop yelling, stop jumping to conclusions, we might get along a little better.

Jehudah Ben-Israel says:

Shouldn’t his boss apologize as well… for a whole bunch of expressions of humiliation of the the nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel, its elected officials, laws, governing institutions and the very sovereignty of the Jewish people in its historic homeland…??!!

show me a Jew with a sense of humor and I’ll show you a rabbi with a pork pie!!

Steve says:

It’s a good joke. Totally harmless! As a Jew and a US Army veteran, I am not offended, but I am amused.

Michelle says:

I think it’s funny, though don’t understand why it has to be Jewish–many cultures, especially Mediterranean ones, are clannish.

As a Jew, I too am sensitive to stereotypical Jewish jokes told by non-Jews, but this is making a mountain out of a molehill.

Michelle says:

Phil, you’re joking, right—I never met a Jew without a sense of humor, at least in the USA.

neal says:

I found it funny and not at all offensive. I find the explanation that only Jews can tell this joke or jokes about jews to be ridiculous.

Annette Smith says:

I don’t see any reason to apologize. The joke was an irony in which the Jew outsmarts the Taliban. Why is that an insult?

Meilech says:

It is another example of the Obama administration’s policy of delegitimizing first Israel and then the Jews. Let’s see, who else made anti-Israel remarks and later apologized? See a pattern here. Oh, and let’s not forget the Obama policy of “engaging” Syria and other blatantly anti-Israel, pro-terrorist states. Wake up people. Or maybe you just want to line up for the cattle cars now.

Yale Gancherov says:

Hmmmmn… not sure what truth Jones thought this joke represented. I hope he offered it as a comment on how anti-judaism can rob Gentiles of their opportunity to benefit from our existence. BTW, I think a rabbi wearing a pork-pie hat DOES have a sense of humor — see what he did there?

Yale Gancherov says:

See, pork-pie hats aren’t made out of pork, they’re — oh, never mind!

Jeff Carpenter says:

This was a funny joke; but the delivery is most important.


I am a Jew and have shared this joke with non-Jews. We all thought it was funny. As for being offened by General Jones, my wise Bubbe said, “find no offense where none was intended.” The man was only trying to be funny.

Bernie says:

I thought it was funny. I only wonder if I can remember the joke so I can tell it!

J Baruch says:

Funny, and I thought it was pretty well delivered for a general (no offense to any military brass out there!).

These comments about humiliating or delegitimizing Israel or the Jews are not funny, but they are silly. It’s heartening to see that they’re outweighed (at least so far) by folks who do have a sense of humor. I’m with Joyce’s wise Bubbe.

FlaGuy954 says:

The joke was funny – maybe the venue in which it was told was inappropriate, but look…if Jackie Mason had told the joke, no one would be batting an eye. Give General Jones a break! After all…he DOES have a Jewish sense of humor!

LIsa says:

The joke is funny, there is no denying that. But the reigning rule applies- let the Jews tell jokes about Jews to Jews. This was just bad judgement and was never going to go over in a positive way. Smart non-Jews know better!

A woman is walking her dog on the beach at Tel Aviv when the animal suddenly bolts into the water and is being swept out to sea. A passerby bravely dashes into the waves, rescues the dog, and administers mouth-to-mouth rescusitation. The dog’s owner is overjoyed to get her pet back, and says to the rescuer, “You wonderful man! Are you a vet?”
The man looks at her in amazement, and shouts in a thick Polish accent, “Vet?! Vet?! I’m bloody vel soaking!!”
(A vet in British English is a veterinarian)
Try this one next time, General.

It’s nothing but funny!

these are usually really awesome layout. Its a visual treat to take your design. Thank you very mush pertaining to sharing this excellent staff with us all. Keep doing that in future furthermore.

I am not really great with English but I get hold this really easy to interpret.

Great blog here! Also your web site loads up fast! What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

It is really a nice and helpful piece of info. I’m glad that you shared this useful info with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Jones Apologizes for Controversial Humor

An old non-Jew tells a joke

More on Tablet:

From the Mekong to Maryland

By Hillel Kuttler — After the fall of Saigon, a Baltimore synagogue helped 15 Vietnamese become Americans