Last Friday, the Jerusalem Post ran a story about a soldier who has been given 21 days in the stockade for yawning (without covering his mouth) during a speech given by his base commander in memory of late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
This story seemed an odd choice for page 2 of the week’s largest edition (and ironic considering it flanked a notice for a memorial service for the 18th yahrzeit of Rav Meir Kahane). But after reading it and having a few hours to digest it, two things leapt out at me about this article.
The first was the fact that half of the article consisted of quotations derived from an interview with the soldier’s mother. Yes, given that the soldier was probably not allowed to speak to the press, it’s understandable that the Post would have telephoned a close relative for a reaction. But the mother’s reaction really shocked me. Check this out:
This Yiddishe Mama called her son’s commanders to protest? Is there any other society in the world where an adult male (this soldier is at least 18) has his mother calling his bosses to complain about what happens at his job? What really has me wondering is how this soldier must feel about what his mother did. Was it normal and expected that she would call his commanders and try to get him off? Or is he sitting in jail, mortified that his mother’s phone call made the international press?
With these two things–the frivolous nature of the event and the absurdity of the mother’s behavior–it occurred to me that the job of the press is not what I’ve always thought. When I was young, I thought the goal of the press was to inform the public. Then my attention was called to the fact that the press chooses material to print or air based on its ability to attract readers and viewers, thus selling advertising. Then someone tweaked the perspective of the advertising sales to emphasize that it’s not advertising but the readers and viewers themselves who are being sold. But this article seemed to me to tread a different kind of ground. This article sounded like a protest piece. Not only does the punishment seem rather harsh for the crime (any number of people might have found a lengthy speech on the very controversial Rabin tedious and forgotten to cover their mouths), but the mother’s reaction, while completely out of line given that her son is an adult, is still understandable. The mother’s comment that closes the article reads, "…[Y]ou don’t send someone to prison for yawning… You can punish him for it, but not make an example of him."