MMA law splits New York Jewish community

  • 1-Milner Jack
A group of prominent Jewish leaders in New York have caused a stir by calling for the ban on mixed martial arts (MMA) in the state to remain in place.
by JACK MILNER | May 05, 2015

Until now, the fight against legalising MMA, which has been banned in New York since 1997, has focused mainly on criticism that the sport is barbaric, anti-woman and anti-gay - claims league officials vehemently deny.

This is the first time Jewish leaders as a group have weighed in and it has left Jews on both sides of the debate.

The group of Jewish leaders wrote an open letter to “friends of the Jewish community”. It was sent to state lawmakers and appeared in Jewish publications, highlighting the fact that the Abu Dhabi government owns a 10 per cent stake in the sport’s biggest league - the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The letter points out that Abu Dhabi is part of the United Arab Emirates, which the Anti-Defamation League has rated as one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world.

“This is a country that refuses to recognise Israel as a nation, refuses to allow Israeli citizens to travel in their country, and has banned the teaching of the Holocaust in their schools,” the letter states.

“At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, we cannot stand by while (New York State capital) Albany cuts a deal with a company whose profits will go directly into the hands of an enemy of Israel. It is our hope that New York will continue its proud tradition as a staunch friend to the Jewish community by rejecting the legalisation of mixed martial arts and saying no to a company and country that is clearly no friend of Israel.”

A television ad with a similar theme will run in the near future.

Among the 17 leaders who signed the letter are Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis; Yoel Schonfeld, a rabbi for the Orthodox Union and Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills Synagogue in Queens; Rabbi David Keehn of the Queens Jewish Community Council; and Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a principal with Bernstein Global Wealth Management and the son of two Holocaust survivors.

Ultimate Fighting Championship officials fought back by saying Abu Dhabi is not only considered an ally of the United States, but also has dealings with major New York City developers like Sam Zell and Stephen Ross and ownership stakes in “iconic” New York City real estate like the Chrysler Building and the Time Warner Centre in Columbus Circle.

“This desperate, misinformed, last-minute attack borders on racial and ethnic stereotypes that have no place in public discourse,” said Ultimate Fighting Championship spokesman Steven Greenberg.

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (Democrat Queens), an Orthodox Jew who is a co-sponsor of the mixed martial arts legalisation bill, said: “It offends me that there are those who will use any excuse to play politics with our economy. This is just another tactic by the opposition to cloud the real issue.”

The state Senate has passed an MMA legalisation bill the past five years, only to see it die in the Assembly.

Ironically in South Africa we have quite a few very successful exponents of MMA.



The ride and fall of the Jewish boxer




While doing research for another article, I came across the name of Harry Isaacs, a Jewish boxer who fought in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. He won a bronze medal in the men’s bantamweight division and to date Isaacs remains the only Jewish South African to win an Olympic medal.

While trying to find out more on Isaacs other than his medal, all I discovered was that he died in 1961 at the age of 53. I came across a book written by Allen Bodner, an attorney from New York and son of Leo Bodner, a boxer and professional manager, about the rise and fall of Jewish boxing in America. Bodner conducted research and produced an illuminating book called: "When boxing was a Jewish sport".

The book is about Jewish boxing and the contribution of Jews to American boxing. Bodner certainly is right when he complains that American Jewish historians have ignored the subject of Jewish sport in America. He had interviews with 31 famous Jewish boxers, managers and promoters. Some were legends in the 1930s.

Among those interviewed were his father, Leo Bodner; Julie Bort; Danny Kapilow; Herbie Kronowitz; Artie Levine; Al Ried; Maxie Shapiro; Allie Stolz; Vic Zimet; Charlie Gelman; Bernie Friedkin and others.

Bodner highlighted a hitherto unknown fact that, in the 1920s and 1930s, Jews were the major source of boxing in America. Those were the days of the struggle of the American Jews in the urban ghettoes against poverty and anti-Semitism.

Boxing was for many kids a way out, to ease their inferiority complex of being immigrants and members of an ethnic group before the process of the melting pot made them part of the broader community. Boxing operated without anti-Semitism; it was open to immigrants.

By the 1950s, this phenomenon almost suddenly disappeared. In other ethnic groups, the process of decline was a gradual one: Irish, Italian, Puerto Rican...The disappearance of Jewish boxing was a drastic act, perhaps because the sons of those Jewish stars refused to follow their fathers' tradition.

Also, the parents told their kids: "Move on, go to college, be a doctor or a lawyer."


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