Female journalists found themselves cordoned off behind their male colleagues while covering Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to the Western Wall in Jerusalem Tuesday. Visitors to the sacred site are segregated by gender, but during past media events both men and women have typically been granted a space from which they can actually see.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, an ultra-orthodox religious organization that administers the grounds, arranged a viewing platform for female journalists inside the women’s section, according to The Jerusalem Post, but female journalists at the scene said their view was obstructed.
Pence’s staff ultimately removed an awning covering the platform, providing space for the women to stand on chairs to see over their male colleagues’ equipment. But outraged female journalists said their view was still obstructed by scaffolding and the men’s platform, which stood in their sightline to the Vice President, the Guardian reports.
Tal Schneider, a diplomatic and political correspondent for Israel’s Hebrew-language Globes newspaper, tweeted a photo of her view, writing that female journalists “deserve the first row, not the ‘women at the back of the bus.'”
Pence visited the Western Wall as part of an four day Middle East tour, in which he told Israel’s parliament that the U.S. planned to relocate its Embassy to Jerusalem as early as 2019. President Trump’s decision last month to move the Embassy stoked controversy and raised fears that the contentious move could endanger the fraught peace process between Israel and Palestine, which regards East Jerusalem as its eventual capital.
Other female journalists covering Pence’s visit expressed frustration on Twitter, using the hashtag #PenceFence.
Pence spokesperson Alyssa Farah issued a statement in response to the incident, saying “every effort was made to accommodate both female and male journalists while observing the rules in place at the Western Wall,” while the Western Wall Heritage Foundation told Israel’s Channel 10 that its efforts were to offer “maximum accessibility” for journalists covering the event.
On previous visits by Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama, female journalists were afforded a clear view, according to the Guardian. “I have never seen something like today’s arrangement, with women fenced behind men. Normally for visits its separate but equalish,” wrote reporter Noga Tarnopolsky.
But Tovah Lazaroff, deputy managing editor for the Jerusalem Post, said that male journalists received similar “preferential treatment” when U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley visited the Western Wall in June. “The issue here is gender discrimination,” she said.