Female Journalists Penned Behind Men During Pence’s Western Wall Visit

“Today, they’ve experienced first-hand what happens to a woman who challenges the ultra-Orthodox monopoly of the Western Wall,” said a feminist group.



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.’”


Female journalists found themselves jammed behind an iron fence with men’s backs to their faces and a canvas canopy obstructing a clean view.








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.


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 : Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

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