Legalizing mixed martial arts in New York could benefit a major anti-Israel force, according to a group of Jewish leaders.
ALBANY — The fight against mixed martial arts has escalated, with a group of prominent New York Jewish leaders saying that legalizing the controversial sport could benefit a major anti-Israel force.
The group has penned a letter to “friends of the Jewish community” that will go to state lawmakers and run in Jewish publications highlighting the fact that the Abu Dhabi government owns a 10% stake in the sport’s biggest league — the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Abu Dhabi is part of the United Arab Emirates, which the Anti-Defamation League ranked as one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world, the letter says.
“This is a country that refuses to recognize 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 says.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, is among those who signed the letter, which emphasizes the fact that the Abu Dhabi government owns a 10% stake in the sport’s biggest league — the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Until now, the fight against legalizing 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.
“At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, we cannot stand by while Albany cuts a deal with a company whose profits will go directly into the hands of an enemy of Israel,” the letter says. “It is our hope that New York will continue its proud tradition as a staunch friend to the Jewish community by rejecting the legalization of mixed martial arts and saying no to a company and country that is clearly no friend of Israel.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) used to be a co-sponsor of the bill to legaliza MMA, which has been banned in the state since 1997.
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 Sunday by saying that 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 Center in Columbus Circle.
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones holds his championship belt for the fans during the UFC 178 Ultimate Media Day at the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino last year in Las Vegas.
“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 (D-Queens), an Orthodox Jew who is a co-sponsor of the mixed martial arts legalization 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 legalization bill the past five years, only to see it die in the Assembly.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) used to be a co-sponsor on the legalization bill, giving hope to supporters that it may pass before the end of the legislative session in June.
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