John Whitbeck, currently the most famous district Republican committee chair in Virginia, defended a joke he told on Tuesday about the "head of the Jewish faith" presenting a bill to the Pope by saying that he "did not tell an anti-Semitic joke. I told a joke I heard from a priest at a church service." Whitbeck told his joke at a rally for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, whose spokesperson quickly distanced the campaign from Whitbeck by saying that he didn't even "know who the guy is." Which, as it turns out, might not hold water long term as a defense for Cuccinelli himself:
But back to Whitbeck's joke, because at this point, the story of the 2014 Virginia Governor's race is best told as a series of scandals on the parts of both candidates. Here, again, is the joke in question:
A writer for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency explained, perhaps for Whitbeck and his laughing audience's benefit, why such a joke is indeed anti-Semitic: "It’s about Jews presenting the pope with the bill for the Last Supper, so it packs two of the most toxic anti-Jewish stereotypes into a single punchline: God-killers! Cheapskates!"
Whitbeck's defense, issued in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon, even drew some snark from the conservative-leaning publication: "The 'leader of the Jewish faith' could not be reached for comment because he or she does not exist," the publication explained. For his part, Whitbeck claims that the controversy around his joke has nothing to do with its content and everything to do with the timing, arguing that the people who called attention to the incident in the first place belong to "American Bridge, an organization founded by Democrat activist David Brock and funded by Georg[e] Soros." He also claimed that the campaign of Cuccinelli's rival Terry McAuliffe was trying to change the subject away from a recent endorsement for the Republican by the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s TechPAC." It is true that Whitbeck's joke was quickly seized upon by Cuccinelli's Democratic rivals. On the other hand, Terry McAuliffe, George Soros, David Brock, and American Bridge did not stand in front of an audience and tell a joke about Jews billing the Pope.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.