As Vice President Pence visits the Western Wall, male journalists are given the front-row spots. Female journalists are standing in the very back, standing on chairs to try to see over all of the guys. pic.twitter.com/K3tnABSUnv— Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) January 23, 2018
Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the Middle East sparked a controversy when female journalists covering the event were given “special” treatment — and not just on one occasion.
According to The Washington Post, a visiting reporter from Finland was asked to remove her bra by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security detail. When she refused, she was not allowed to cover Pence and Netanyahu’s press conference. But the real offense came later when Pence visited the holy site of Jerusalem’s Western Wall, where female journalists were forced to stand behind men in a penned area.
When the gender segregation prevented the journalists from taking photos or otherwise doing their jobs, the women took to protesting on Twitter under the hashtag #PenceFence.
The Western Wall — the outer wall of what is known as Temple Mount by the Jews and al-Haram al-Sharif by Muslims — is under the authority of ultra-Orthodox Jewish group, Western Wall Heritage Foundation. It is the custom to divide the plaza by gender, with men on one side and women on the other side, to allow people to pray undistracted.
However, both genders are normally allowed to look into each other sections unobstructed. During previous visits by President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama, the sexes were likewise segregated but female journalists and photographers were afforded an unblocked view.
But, reporter Noga Tarnopolsky said this time around, Jewish authorities have gone too far and female journalists barricaded behind men “has zero to do with any ‘religious rule.’”
Factually incorrect to say that “keeping with Jewish tradition at the holy site, female journalists were placed behind a barrier.” I have covered many visits; this was an aberrant first. #PenceFence https://t.co/7t7nolErJz— Noga Tarnopolsky (@NTarnopolsky) January 23, 2018
Female journalists found themselves jammed behind an iron fence with men’s backs to their faces and a canvas canopy obstructing a clean view.
When it's a bit hard to do your job / women journalists forced to stand behind the men at the separation fence at the western wall for Mike Pence's visit #PenceInIsrael #PenceFence pic.twitter.com/IsXbJ0jTi5— Ariane Ménage (@ariane_menage) January 23, 2018
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. #PenceFence pic.twitter.com/LFh1AkSROE— Tal Schneider (@talschneider) January 23, 2018
I guess people here are concerned I’m gonna grab a guy and kiss him or maybe force my female presence at him. Btw, no worshipers are here today so what’s the point in shoving us behind the fence? #PenceFence pic.twitter.com/YsdYVV0vCH— Tal Schneider (@talschneider) January 23, 2018
No difference than Pence barricading himself from other women when he eats dinner. No other administration has ever done this. This administration couldn’t get more vile. #PenceFence— Pat (@patvel18) January 23, 2018
After complaints arose, officials quickly ran to do damage control by removing the canopy and giving women chairs to stand up on to improve their view. However, press member Tal Schneider tweeted a photo showing her line of sight remained blocked.
Follow me for a “clear” shot of the @VP visit to the western wall where if you are a male you can do your work and get the best front seat and if you are a second class citizen as I am, this is what we see & report pic.twitter.com/CN1rBzFMmO— Tal Schneider (@talschneider) January 23, 2018
There is hardly any clear justification for keeping the genders separate during the vice president’s visit. Unlike during the visit by Trump, who was accompanied by Orthodox Jews — son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka — there was no concern of disrupting Jewish worshippers since the entire place was empty. And although Mike and Karen Pence are said to be religious, in Evangelical Christianity, there is no such requirement of praying in the company of one’s own sexes.
Women of the press also blamed the male journalists on the scene for not standing up for them and representing a unified face of journalism.
“If you had refused to cover the story when your colleagues were being discriminated against,” reporter Noa Landau said, it would have been possible for a segregated set up where men and women were afforded equal opportunity to cover the visit.
The Jewish feminist group, Women of the Wall, along with Conservative and Reform movements, has been engaged in an ongoing legal battle over Israel’s ultra-Orthodox political parties. Following Pence’s visit, the group said it was time to challenge the “Orthodox monopoly” of the state.
“Today, senior women journalists from Israel and abroad were discriminated against,” the women’s rights group said in a statement. “Today, they’ve experienced first-hand what happens to a woman who challenges the ultra-Orthodox monopoly of the Western Wall.”
After the vice president left, a letter of complaint was sent by the Israeli Women Journalists Forum to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked that accused the government of gender discrimination over the press arrangement and demanding an investigation into the events.
The controversy erupted as women in the United States took to the streets for the Women’s March, demanding equal opportunities and women empowerment.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun