Under better circumstances, the joke about a Jewish merchant and an angry Taliban militant told last week at a Washington think-tank by National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones might have pass as a failed, mildly offensive attempt at humor, and nothing more. The stereotypes are objectionable and the punch line not clever. But that joke told at a moment of heightened tension and mutual suspicion in the delicate relationship between the governments of Israel and the U.S., runs the risk of reinforcing all the wrong elements of the troubled relationship.
Jones’ joke isn’t worth repeating: Suffice it to say the Taliban militant is angry, anti-Semitic and short-sighted and the Jewish merchant is clever, successful, and gets the best of his opponent. The crowd at the hawkish Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where Jones gave a pro-Israel speech on National Security, laughed heartily when Jones told it. The problem is the U.S. and Israel are in what the Israeli ambassador to Washington is reported to have recently described as the worst crisis in 30 years, driven largely by substantive differences about how to pursue peace — but amplified by public distrust.