The Cable

Jones under fire for Jewish joke

National  Security Advisor Jim Jones's speech to a top Middle East think thank last week has been overshadowed somewhat by a brewing controversy over a joke he told at the outset. But within the speech, Jones made big news on the foreign-policy front.

UPDATE, 1:35 p.m.: Jones has just issued the following statement:

“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.”


Jones is getting a lot of criticism in the conservative blogosphere for starting off his talk with a two-minute joke about a beleaguered Taliban soldier who stumbles upon a Jewish shop in Afghanistan pleading for water. Here's the exact wording of the now-infamous joke:

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."

Although the crowd seemed to laugh heartily, Jones has been heavily criticized by conservative bloggers and some Jewish community leaders, such as the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman, who told ABC News the joke  was "inappropriate" and "stereotypic."

"Some people believe they need to start a speech with a joke; this was about the worst kind of joke the head of the National Security Council could have told," Foxman reportedly said.

Jones is already viewed in some pro-Israel circles as too tough on the Jewish state, dating back to his time as George W. Bush's security coordinator for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He's also reportedly been advocating that President Obama put forward his own peace plan, a move the Israelis and their closest allies in the United States would fiercely oppose.

But Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), which hosted the event, said that he hasn't gotten any complaints about the joke and called the controversy a "real tempest in a teapot."

"This joke stuff is beneath everybody to be focusing on when there are important issues to be focused on," Satloff told The Cable. "I was the host of the event and nobody registered that sort of complaint to me. There was no shock, no offense."

He defended WINEP's decision to post the video of the speech without the joke included, saying that such videos are edited all the time to pare it down only to prepared remarks. As Politico's Ben Smith pointed out Sunday, the White House's official transcript of the speech also failed to include the joke.

Jones did make news in discussing the Obama administration's National Security Strategy, which is expected to come out in the next few weeks. He laid out the four pillars of the new strategy: security, prosperity, values, and international order.

That's quite different from Bush's 2006 NSS, which named two key pillars: "promoting freedom, justice, and human dignity," and "confronting the challenges of our time by leading a growing community of democracies."

Satloff said the speech also included, "the most comprehensive bill of indictment on Iran that I've seen any senior official state," as well as some language that was a signal of the administration's new willingness to put pressure on Arab and Palestinian leaders to begin serious negotiations with Israel.

Jones said:

We also continue to call on all sides to avoid provocative actions, including Israeli actions in East Jerusalem and Palestinian incitement that fuel suspicion rather than trust... So it is time to begin those negotiations and to put an end to excuses.  It is time for all leaders in the region-Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab-to support efforts for peace. 

"In any sense they are asking Israel to do something, they want it to be closely interwoven with things they are asking of the Palestinians," Satloff said. "The language has changed on that and in this speech Jones has rolled out the new language."

The Cable

"Public meeting" set for first Iran sanctions conference session

The Iran sanctions conference meets for the first time next Wednesday and the meeting will be open to the public, according to a notice circulated around the Hill today.

The conference, hosted by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman, D-CA, and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, I-CT, on "The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act," will be held in the room 210/212 of the new Capitol Visitors Center on April 28 at 1:00 p.m. and will be a "public meeting," the notice said.

Representatives from Berman and Dodd's offices did not immediately respond to requests for information about exactly how "public" the meeting will be.

Berman finally appointed conferees Thursday, the Senate appointed its conferees in March. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, has promised to move the bill as soon as the conference ends and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD, said Tuesday he was hopeful the bill could reach the president's desk "within a matter of weeks."

At the public meeting, watchers can expect to hear some of the following things from these conferees, all of whom made floor speeches about the bill during Thursday's debate:


The urgency of this issue is beyond dispute. Iran quite possibly will be capable of developing and delivering a nuclear weapon in the next 3 to 5 years, and our task of preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability is made more complicated by the fact that we all know that our best weapon for fighting this battle -- economic sanctions -- takes time to work. So we need the strongest possible sanctions, and we need them fast.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL:

Diplomacy and engagement have had no real impact on the regime in Tehran. As Iran sprints towards the nuclear finish line, deadlines set by the Obama administration for compliance have been repeatedly disregarded. Now the strategy appears to be resting on securing a new U.N. Security Council resolution. However, Russia and China see themselves as friends of the regime in Tehran and have publicly stated that they will not support a resolution that puts any significant pressure on Tehran. In fact, The New York Times reported last week that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned in a secret 3-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran's steady progress toward nuclear capability.

Rep. Dan Burton, R-IN:

It is extremely important that we do something and do something very, very quickly. We have waited too long. We have been talking about negotiating with Iran and putting sanctions on them for the past 4 or 5 years, trying to get our allies to work with us. The fact of the matter is nothing has happened, and Iran continues to thumb their nose at the rest of the world. This is a terrible, terrible threat. A terrorist state, Iran, with nuclear weapons is not only a threat to the Middle East, to Israel, our best ally over there, but it is a threat to every single one of us.

Rep. Ron Klein, R-FL:

This legislation gives companies a simple choice: do business with the United States, or do business with Iran. We cannot allow the U.S. taxpayer to be last crutch of Iran's dangerous nuclear program. Not on our watch and not on our dime. The time to act is now, and we must move with fierce urgency.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA:

Today, the world's top terrorist state has its tentacles throughout the region. For those of us who have engaged in this region and have watched neighboring countries to Iran, watched their propensity to react as Iran has sped up its development, each of those countries is now looking at going nuclear. I would ask my colleagues to think about those neighbors of Iran that would create a heavily nuclearized Middle East should Iran succeed in this and what the impact would be. We can only imagine the turmoil and the tensions that will come to the Middle East should we not succeed in this effort to prevent Iran from developing these nuclear weapons.

Hoyer: (not a conferee)

It is my belief, my colleagues, that if smart sanctions take effect, more and more Iranians will come to the same conclusion and so, hopefully, will the Iranian regime. Sanctions will show the regime that its embrace of nuclear proliferation carries a cost that is far too high. We cannot expect a change of heart from Tehran, but we can demand a change of behavior. My colleagues, this action is timely and perhaps past time, but it is always timely to do the right thing, to speak up, to act, and to encourage our allies as well and our partners and our fellow citizens in this globe to act in a way that will protect them and protect our international community.

Rep. Nita Lowey, D-NY: (not a conferee)

This week, Iran announced its testing of various missiles and weapons capabilities. U.S. officials have said Iran could develop a ballistic missile capable of striking the U.S. by 2015, and they have said that Iran's continued existential threat to our strongest ally in the Middle East, Israel, presents dire global security implications. I urge the conferees to act with haste to address these urgent challenges with tough crippling sanctions. Let the speed with which Congress finalizes this legislation to sanction Iran be a message to the international community that time is of the essence if we are to contain Iran's threat to security, stability and prosperity worldwide.