Women journalists covering VP Mike Pence’s trip to Israel found themselves in two unpleasant situations throughout the trip: first when searched by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security detail, and second when they were forced to stand behind their male colleagues at the Western Wall on Tuesday.
At Pence’s news conference with Netanyahu, female journalists were subjected to a very unnecessarily invasive security check by the Prime Minister’s security detail. A reporter from Finland’s state television was asked to remove her bra during what the Chicago Tribute describes as a “overly zealous and demeaning security check.” After refusing to do so, she was prevented from covering the conference.
This would not be the first time women journalists would have to face such treatment while covering events of the Israeli Prime Minister. In 2011, an Al Jazeera journalist also said she was also asked to take off her bra as part of a “security check.” On Tuesday, when covering Pence’s trip to the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, women journalists found themselves separated from their male colleagues through a fence.
The Western Wall is currently under the authority of the the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Western Wall Heritage Foundation, so the plaza is divided by a barrier into two sections – one for men and one for women. For VP Pence’s trip two platforms were built on top of the barrier, side by side, for journalists to stand on while covering the event. As Pence was praying on the men’s side, women journalists were unable to see anything above their male colleagues cameras and equipment, who were sat in front of them, blocking any view of the Vice President and Prime Minister. It became merely impossible for female reporters to take any photos or videos of the event.
“It was the same situation during President Trump’s visit to the Western Wall in May 2017,” the foundation said in a statement. “We reject any attempt to divert the discussion from the important and moving visit of the US Vice President and his wife at the Western Wall.”
Female journalists disagree with the foundation’s response, however, and created the hashtag “#pencefence” on Twitter, speaking out about the treatment they faced which blocked them from doing their jobs.
Tal Schneider, another reporter present at the time of the event, tweeted a photo of the fence dividing male journalists from female colleagues with the caption “Separation at the Western Wall. The women stuck in isolation and can not photograph, work. Women journalists are second-class citizens. The American women photographers are frantically yelling at the representatives of the White House.”
Jenna Johnson, a Washington Post correspondent traveling with Pence said: “When the press pool got out of the vans, they split us into two groups, men and women, and took us to a media platform that straddled the line.”
“Local reporters were already in place – there were tons more men than women, and the female journalists were very angry about the separation. We could barely see the VP, and the men’s boom mics ruined the photos of the women,” she went on to say.
Gender segregation at the Western Wall has been a controversial topic for a very long time as Jewish advocacy groups continue to demand mixed-gender prayer. In 2016 Netanyahu’s government agreed to split the area into three parts, creating a new area for unsegregated prayer, however went back on his promise last minute and nothing was ever done.
After Mike Pence’s visit, Women of the Wall, a group fighting for mixed-gender prayer space said in a statement that female journalists “experienced first-hand what happens to a woman who challenges the ultra-Orthodox monopoly of the Western Wall.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office apologized to the Finnish reporter in regard to the intrusive security check, saying “efforts were made to treat her with respect,” however they continue to stand by their statements about segregation at the Western Wall.