The visit of New York City Mayor Eric Adams put Israel on the media map in the United States this week, with quite a few Americans learning for the first time about other sides of the Middle Eastern country that was a cherished dream for his late mother. Adams met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ate plant-based meat, drummed on darbukot in the Mahane Yehuda market and operated drones with the Israel Police, but it seems that one more thing will be especially remembered from this visit – something that the mayor's office would probably like to forget.
At a time when the exclusion of women is a particularly explosive issue in Israel, the New York Times reporter who accompanied Adams on his visit to Israel, Emma Fitzsimmons, tweeted a picture of herself in the women's section at the Western Wall and wrote: "That feeling when you’re at the Western Wall in Jerusalem as a female journalist and you have to climb a bench and look over a fence to see the mayor." She also added a photo taken by the newspaper's female photographer from behind the mechitzah – the Hebrew term for the separation between men and women – of the mayor surrounded by male photographers and wrote: "Our photographer also got this shot from the women’s section of the Western Wall, over the fence."
The tweet of the senior reporter who covers the New York municipality immediately caused a storm and received more than a million views. Along with the required witticisms ("Okay, let's go," responded one surfer), there were those who decried it: "Only under ultra-Orthodox management do we have segregated prayer at the kotel. It's not religion, it's the hijacking of religion or religious standards, by the extremes," read one comment. Another wrote: "I'm so sorry you had to go through this humiliating experience just because you're a woman."
On the other hand, senior members of the Jewish community and leaders such as right-wing journalist Ben Shapiro were quick to attack Fitzsimmons for "lack of respect for religion" and for allegedly betraying the integrity of the journalism profession by placing her at the center of the story instead of engaging in news coverage."
"That time when you think others' religious standards ought to bow to your secularism at one of their holiest sites," Shapiro tweeted, paraphrasing the journalist's words. "She should travel one mile into PA-controlled territory to see how much they love feminist secularism, and how things would go if she demanded they mimic her standards," Shapiro continued. ". But boo hoo, she had to stand on a bench to take a picture over a mechitza in Jerusalem."
Another Jewish journalist, Leah Goldman, wrote: "I hate it when ancient religious customs of hundreds of years get in the way of a good photograph," and another compared it to Arab countries: "I'm looking forward to the same post about being forced to wear the hijab in 26 other countries."
Others were outraged that Fitzsimmons made herself the subject of the coverage, rather than remaining "invisible" as the journalist. The superintendent of schools in the ultra-Orthodox town of Kiryat Yoel in upstate New York tweeted in response: "The responses to this post should be a lesson to all journalists who cover religious groups and places of worship. If you don't respect the faith traditions you cover, then give the task to someone who will."