Sam Lehman-Wilzig
Prof. Sam: Academic Pundit

In Defense of Women

Among the travesties of the Hamas attack on Israel’s south on Oct. 7, none compares to the sexual violence perpetrated on many women. We’ll spare the details here – broadly reported, painfully described, and even shown visually, numerous times these past few months. However, unfortunately there’s also a “follow-up”: it was recently reported that domestic violence against women has increased in Israel, post-Oct. 7, a pattern that follows all war outbreaks and other national emergencies (e.g., pandemic lockdowns etc.).

Tragic circumstances are also opportunities to think anew about age-old problems. And certainly, violence against women is one of the oldest and seemingly most difficult to overcome. The worst part about it is that the phenomenon is far more prevalent in times of peace than in war: domestic (home) violence, attacks in the street, etc. Nor is it only a matter of physical violence; verbal abuse, sexual innuendo, and other forms of ill-treatment are all too commonplace.

Paradoxically, such behavior continues despite women having been granted equal rights and have grabbed the opportunities offered them with gusto. Or perhaps the word “despite” is incorrect; maybe it should be “because women have been granted” etc. In fact, in certain areas of life, women have already surpassed their male counterparts by a wide margin; most impressively in higher education. In Israel (and the U.S.) women make up over 60% of B.A. graduates – and close to two-thirds of all M.A.’s in Israel! One can perhaps “understand” – although certainly not accept or justify – those males frustrated and becoming violent out of pique at losing their former, socially dominant status.

Indeed, in Israel an estimated 200,000 women are subjected to domestic violence ( Widening the lens, a recent global survey ( found that young women across the western world are mostly worried about sexual harassment, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect. A causal factor – or perhaps as a result – that survey also found a large and growing gap between women who overall are becoming more liberal whereas men are becoming more conservative – a recipe for profound relationship troubles.

No less problematic is the mental stress women are under, even when not having suffered violent attack. Walking home alone at night in the street, living with a temporarily unemployed husband, having once suffered an attack even long ago, or… (choose your own scary scenario) – all these put a continual, even if low-key, psychological burden on women, many of whom who might not even be aware of it given that it’s a “normal” part of their social life.

The problem will certainly not go away by itself, if only because of simple anatomy: men are naturally built far stronger than women, and generally also more aggressive overall. Thus, beyond legal sanctions, gender education, and other enlightened policies, a more profound change is needed that not only involves preventing such actual (non-wartime) violence but also removing the underlying worry that many women bear.

My suggestion is simple; even so, it demands some broader explanation. The solution: mandatory teaching of self-defense to young girls starting from the first grade, continuing for several years thereafter.

One of the problems of modern education is that it is geared almost exclusively to preparing the pupil (and later student) for professional work. Not much educational time or resources are devoted to preparing the individual for other aspects of life. Does anyone learn finance in school (savings, consumerism, investments)? Parenting (child rearing and development)? Nutrition (proper eating, balanced diet)? Hygiene and Health? Among other things, the latter includes maintaining one’s body and mind (i.e., the importance of sports). It is here that “self-defense” enters the picture.

This would have several benefits. First and foremost, personal protection throughout life. True, it wouldn’t help much in the rare case of an Oct. 7-type marauding attack, but anything less than that could be well defended against by women properly trained from an early age. Second, it is the perfect tool for starting life-long, physical fitness training. Third, it would boost girls’ (and eventually, adult women’s) physical self-confidence and psychological self-assurance.

What of the argument that this would diminish “femininity”? Not at all: does anyone in Israel consider Yael Arad – Israel’s first-ever Olympic medalist (silver; Barcelona 1992) – to be less than feminine because her sport was judo? Indeed, following her success, several other Israeli women have increasingly won judo medals in European and world championships. Even in the more aggressive sport Taekwondo, Israel garnered a bronze medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. All this and more constitutes a source of great pride in Israel without any handwringing as to “what’s happened to Israeli femininity.”

Each grade school could choose its self-defense sport: krav-maga, karate, judo, etc. As to the boys, they too could choose to participate (not mandatory). After all, one of the things learned in these pugilist sports is self-control, an especially important life trait for males.

Finally, although this is not the main reason for starting such a universal program in Israel, it can’t hurt that such training would be enthusiastically encouraged by Israel’s defense forces. They would end up drafting fitter females into army service. If self-defense training from an early age is a necessity for ensuring the physical safety and mental stability of Israeli women individually, then it can serve equally on a national level to better prepare the country’s defense forces, increasingly being (wo)manned by the “fairer sex”.

About the Author
Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig (PhD in Government, 1976; Harvard U) presently serves as Academic Head of the Communications Department at the Peres Academic Center (Rehovot). Previously, he taught at Bar-Ilan University (1977-2017), serving as: Head of the Journalism Division (1991-1996); Political Studies Department Chairman (2004-2007); and School of Communication Chairman (2014-2016). He was also Chair of the Israel Political Science Association (1997-1999). He has published five books and 69 scholarly articles on Israeli Politics; New Media & Journalism; Political Communication; the Jewish Political Tradition; the Information Society. His new book (in Hebrew, with Tali Friedman): RELIGIOUS ZIONISTS RABBIS' FREEDOM OF SPEECH: Between Halakha, Israeli Law, and Communications in Israel's Democracy (Niv Publishing, 2024). For more information about Prof. Lehman-Wilzig's publications (academic and popular), see: