I’m sure you’ve head about the joke National Security Adviser James Jones told at a recent speech to the Washington Institute For Near East Policy. If not, here it is:
I’d like to begin with a story that I think is true, 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, the jokes goes on, 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.”
Jones went on to deliver his speech. But the damage was done. He’s been called everything but a child of God since. Many believe the joke to be anti-semetic.
It certainly plays to a stereotype, doesn’t it? And at a minimum, it was inappropriate.
But Jones obviously thought nothing of telling the joke. And I was rather surprised by his suggestion that he believes the “story” to be “true”. Wiggle out of that one if you can.
So why did Jones feel comfortable in delivering a joke that was obviously of questionable taste and certainly inappropriate for the occasion? Did he actually believe it to be appropriate? Did he not think anyone would take offense? And if so, why?
Those questions get to the heart of my point. There are few rational people who have followed this administration’s dealings with Israel over the last year who would quibble with the word “disrespectful” as a description of how it has dealt with that country. Never, to my knowledge, have the Israelis been treated so badly by the US during their entire existence as a state (and Israel and I share a birth year). The recent diplomatic dust up in which a fairly routine announcement about housing in Jewish east Jerusalem was turned into a crisis by the US, not Israel. Subsequent treatment of the country and its leaders has been just a shabby. So shabby, in fact, that the only bipartisan thing to come out of Congress in a while is a condemnation of the administration’s treatment of Israel.
To me, that suggests an attitude. Jones joke suggest a pervasive attitude. The fact that the White House didn’t demand an apology from Jones only adds to the strength of that suggestion. Frankly it’s an attitude we can ill afford and certainly one that isn’t going to advance any peace process in the region.
On April 20th, apparently recognizing that the administrations treatment of Israel was causing problems within the US Jewish community, President Obama sent a letter to Alan P. Solow, Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in an effort to calm the storm that was brewing. In the letter he spoke of the “special relationship” the US has with Israel and promised it would not change. But he also said:
Since we have known each other for a long time, I am sure you can distinguish between the noise and distortion about my views that have appeared recently, and the actual approach of my Administration toward the Middle East.
Typical Obama doublespeak. The actions of his administration are what brought on the concern. It wasn’t “noise and distortion”, it was the words of administration spokespersons and Obama himself that caused consternation among supporters of Israel.
And now, after the letter, we have the Jones issue with no White House disclaimer (remember, this is a WH that felt it necessary to speak about the arrest of a person in DC and condemnation of the police – leading to the infamous “beer summit”).
To me, that points to an attitude – an unproductive attitude – that permeates the administration and clouds its ability to pursue meaningful peace in the Middle East.
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