Female MKs Learn Martial Arts to Defend Against Sexual Assault

Israel Women's Martial Arts Federation instructs female MKs in hand-to-hand combat.

She removes her jacket. The only female MK who agreed to practice self-defense techniques designed to fend off attackers is Nadia Hilou (Labor). Hilou received a very high score for valor, but is advised to avoid any contact with attackers unless she can quickly boost her strength and speed.

Hilou is also admonished for insisting on removing her jacket and giving it to former education minister Limor Livnat before taking the mat. "When the attacker comes," Livnat asks her, "will you say, 'Just a minute, I have to give my jacket to Limor?'"

The press was hungry for a direct confrontation between Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich. But Yachimovich failed to show, and Itzik only agreed to engage in hands-on combat with a member of the press.

The nonprofit organization that sent its members to instruct female Knesset employees in the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga is called the Israel Women's Martial Arts Federation (IWMAF). One must confess that their Hebrew name "El Halev" - literally "to the heart" - is more appropriate for an Internet dating site or an Argentine soap opera.

The instructors said the name is an acronym equivalent to the English title. When I refused to accept this explanation, they offered another: The intention is "to the key to the heart." The one maneuver repeatedly demonstrated for the women was an open-faced slap on the attacker's face, a knee to his groin, and a knee to his face.

Balashnikov packs a punch

The goal of the training session, initiated by Knesset Director-General Avi Balashnikov, was to teach female Knesset employees to defend themselves from sexual assault. But the big question was who would teach the women to defend themselves from the Knesset director. Even though Balashnikov declared that attendance was mandatory, only a few dozen of the more than 300 women who work in the Knesset arrived. Balashnikov delivered his own blow.

"I ordered the human resources department to abstain from presenting me any promotion certificate or car request to sign, throughout 2008, for employees who opted to make their own decisions on such an important day," he said. "I am willing to meet any of them in Labor Court."

Balashnikov expressed his glee when panic-stricken employees later began to steal into the auditorium. "See how quickly rumors spread upstairs. The instant messages are buzzing. At this very moment, Pelephone's stock is climbing," he said about the mobile phone operator owned by Bezeq.

Later in the day Balashnikov declared he would not apologize because "an organization is subject to rules." But a few hours later, the Knesset television channel promised that Balashnikov would neither bear a grudge nor exact revenge because, in addition to rules, the Knesset is subject to public opinion.

Where was Yachimovich? She was promoting a bill in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to increase funding to parties that put women on their lists. Yachimovich said she not only wants talented women in the Knesset, but also mediocre women who resemble many of the men there. (Though, truth be told, one might easily detect mediocrity among women in the Knesset these days.)

She also said she was amazed whenever male MKs stop to talk on the phone during meetings. "When I talk on the phone, I also cook and clean. The concept of sitting down to do that is utopian."