Foreign journalists on Friday spoke of their distress after being asked to remove their bras for a security check before being allowed into the offices of Israel’s prime minister.
The three women were told by security personnel to undress and take off their bras for x-ray in two separate incidents at the Jerusalem offices of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this week.
All three complied with the request, despite the distress it caused, in an incident denounced by the Foreign Press Association (FPA) as “unnecessary, humiliating and counter-productive.”
Each of the women was taken behind a curtain in the lobby of the entrance hall and patted down before being told to undress, then their bras were passed out in full view of male and female colleagues and security personnel, to be put through an x-ray machine.
Their personal effects were also emptied out in public view and put through the machine.
“The Foreign Press Association strongly condemns the continued harassment of journalists attending media events at the prime minister’s office,” a statement from the Tel-Aviv based group said.
“This type of treatment is unnecessary, humiliating and counter-productive.”
Sara Hussein, who works for Agence France-Presse (AFP), described the incident as utterly humiliating.
“I can only describe the experience as among the most humiliating in my life,” she wrote in a complaint to the FPA. “I have covered meetings of presidents at the White House and not been subjected to anything similar.”
Neither of the other two women reporters, both of whom were deeply distressed by the incident, wished to be identified.
All three have filed detailed complaints with the FPA, which is pursuing the matter with the Israeli authorities.
Officials at Netanyahu’s office refused to comment directly on the two incidents, saying only: “We are aware of the concerns and we are looking into the matter.”
But Government Press Office head Oren Helman expressed regret over the demand for the women to remove their bras, describing it as “offensive and damaging to the State of Israel.”
“We are talking about an embarrassing failure, which we will do everything within our power to prevent from reoccurring,” he said in a statement sent to AFP. “This is certainly not our policy.”
In January this year, Netanyahu’s security staff came under fire for ordering a pregnant Arab correspondent for Al-Jazeera to remove her bra in order to attend a cocktail event for the press at a five-star hotel in Jerusalem.
The FPA said it was considering whether or not to continue sending its members to events where they risked such treatment by the premier’s security team.
“After repeated appeals and promises by security officials, it appears that the prime minister’s office does not have the desire to stop this happening,” it said.
“The FPA will begin consulting its members over whether the foreign media should no longer cover events at the PM’s office as this is the only occasion where this type of incident occurs.”