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National Security Adviser Apologizes for Joke About Jewish Merchant

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National Security Adviser James Jones is shown during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow Oct. 29, 2009. (AP Photo)

National Security Adviser James Jones apologized Monday for telling a joke last week that depicted a member of the Taliban getting tricked by a Jewish merchant looking to make a sale. 

"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," he said in a written statement. 

Jones, a retired general, used the lengthy joke to break the ice before his address last Wednesday at an event honoring the 25th anniversary of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Interestingly, it was not included in the official White House-provided transcript of the speech. 

But White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday said nobody was trying to cover up what Jones said. 

"It was obviously an on-camera speech. There was no attempt to deceive," Gibbs said. 

The Jones joke got some big laughs out of the room last week -- the institute is generally a pro-Israel organization -- but Jones' opening afterward attracted some attention in the Israeli press. Guests told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that it could have been inappropriate. 

Jones, in his written statement, said the joke "distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States commitment to Israel's security is sacrosanct." 

The security adviser opened his remarks last Wednesday by saying, in a deadpan voice, he wanted to "set the stage" by telling a "story that I think is true" about something that happened recently in southern Afghanistan

Here's what he said: 

"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. He looked on the horizon and he saw what looked like a little shack, and he walked toward that shack and as he got to it, turned out that it was a shack, a store, a little store owned by a Jewish merchant. And the Taliban warrior went up to him and said, 'I need water, get me some water.' And the merchant said, 'I'm sorry, I don't have any water, but would you like to buy 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 saying 'I need water, you try to sell me ties, you people don't get it.' 

"And passively, the merchant stood there until this Taliban was through with his diatribe and said, 'Well, I'm sorry but 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's a restaurant there, and they have all the water you'll need.' 

"And the Taliban, instead of saying thanks, still muttering under his breath, disappears over the hill -- only to come back about an hour later and walking up to the merchant and says, 'Your brother tells me I need a tie in order to get into the restaurant.'" 

The joke went unnoticed for a couple days but has since been picked up on several Web sites -- and then Ha'aretz published a write-up Monday on the fallout. One source told the Israeli newspaper that it "demonstrated a lack of sensitivity" and questioned what would happen if he told a "black joke" before a crowd of African Americans.

Click here to see the video of Jones' joke.