Diaspora Jews must toughen up, says Israeli UFC champ

Natan Levy, the only Israeli competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship martial arts competition, says learning self-defence as a child helped him protect friends from antisemitic bullies


The only Israeli in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) martial arts competition says all Jews should learn self-defence, which he learned to protect his friends from antisemitic bullies as a child.

Natan Levy, who won his first professional fight in April, told the JC: “If you learn martial arts no one bullies you.

“They give you confidence and people don’t attack people who look confident. ”

The importance of self-defence was something French-born Mr Levy, who moved to Israel when he was two months old, learned early on.

“When we went to France to see my dad, my cousins would tell me how kids would pull their kippot off, call them names and steal their bikes because they were Jewish,” he said. “I would go around Paris and hunt the bullies down, and strike back. Fighting back came very naturally to me.”

When he was 15 he started training in mixed martial arts, signing with the UFC in 2020. Now he says he uses his martial-arts platform to fight antisemitism.

“Mixed martial arts isn’t an Olympic sport, there’s no national team, but when I’m in the cage, I definitely want to show that Jews are brave, that we can fight and take care of ourselves,” said Mr Levy. “So although I don’t officially represent Israel and the Jewish people, I feel I do in the way I behave and present myself.”

His big UFC win, in which he beat his opponent in a lightweight fight in Las Vegas, fell between Israel’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day Yom HaShoah and Yom Hazikaron, when the Jewish state commemorates the 24,000 soldiers lost in wars since 1948.

“It was the biggest fight of my life, and I was really nervous.
“I really needed to win it. Then I said to myself: what are you worried about? This is a sport,

I’m choosing to do this. Think what those people went through, the atrocities they suffered.” He went into the octagonal cage, in which combatants are permitted not only to punch but also kick, elbow and kneed their opponent, telling himself to “fight as if I had the opportunity to fight for them”.

In the Podcast Against Antisemitism interview, the athlete also talked about his decision to donate the proceeds of his gear from the fight to Holocaust survivors. “I don’t think any government does enough to support the survivors, and it’s not as if it’s a problem we’re going to have for very long. Soon there won’t be any survivors left.”

When news of his philanthropy spread, Mr Levy was targeted by antisemites online.
“Some said they would bid for my gear and then not pay for it, and I got the Free Palestine comments. This obviously has nothing to do with the conflict.”

Mr Levy said he “wasn’t surprised” by the comments, adding “they’d never make them to my face.”

Moreover, he’d “rather they say what they think so others can see them for who they are”.
The fighter ascribes his bullish approach to antisemitism to his biography. “Being French gives me a different take on things.

“In Israel, you don’t get antisemitism in school or the workplace, it comes in the form of rocket attacks. But where I was born, Jewish pensioners are being murdered in their homes.”

And there’s only one riposte, says the mixed martial artist: “Every Jew in the world should learn the art of self-defence.

“Be proud of who you are. It’s a dangerous world out there. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do.”

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