BY: JORDAN COPE | THE JERUSALEM POST | NOVEMBER 26, 2023
As UFC fighters appear to enable antisemitism and terrorism throughout social media, the consequences could become deadly, especially as antisemitism surges worldwide
Unlike boxing, anything goes in the octagon ring of the United Fighting Championship (UFC), a mixed martial arts league followed by millions. However, some recent punches made by high-profile fighters on social media have clearly crossed a line into antisemitism and support for terrorism. It's time for the UFC to address and combat this moral corruption that taints its image and seemingly incites antisemitic violence.
Since Hamas's October 7 massacre, which claimed the lives of 1,200 innocent people, including babies, with reports of rape, beheading, and burning alive, multiple UFC fighters have spoken up on Israel and Gaza following Hamas's terrorist attack. While criticizing Israel is not inherently antisemitic, it can cross into antisemitism, as noted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition, the world's leading antisemitism definition.
Muhammad Mokaev, a Dagestani UFC fighter, has echoed classic antisemitic tropes in his efforts to dehumanize those from the world's only Jewish state. Instead of blatantly referring to Jews as vermin who murder children for ritual purposes, he referred to Israelis as "filthy animals killing children every day," wishing that "Allah destroy them." Mokaev's sympathies are clearly against Jews, the majority of Israel's population. On October 7, when Hamas committed the worst massacre against Jews since the Holocaust, Mokaev tweeted "Palestine" with a heart emoji, seemingly in support of Hamas— presenting a massacre perpetrated by terrorists against civilians as a battle between Palestinians and Israelis.
Khamzat Chimaev, a UFC fighter from Chechnya, likewise responded with support for Palestinians on the day of the massacre. On October 7, he shared a photo on Twitter of the Dome of the Rock surrounded by Palestinian flags and a flag from Hamas. The photo is captioned with heart emojis. Chimaev's comments from earlier also should draw concern.
One post eventually deleted from his social media depicts a screenshot of what appears to be a video of a Jew in Jerusalem's Old City. Chimaev captions this post, "You are just guests of Palestine... One day you will be expelled from Palestine Inshaalah [God Willing]... Give me the strongest man from Israel. I will break him." As if dreaming of the ethnic cleansing of Jews wasn't enough, Chimaev then tried to liken Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, a tactic recognized as antisemitic by the IHRA definition. On October 15, he tweeted a portrait of Netanyahu and Hitler side by side, seemingly to convey their likeness.
Dagestani fighters libel Israel, then a lynch-mob storms an airport in Dagestan
Islam Makhachev, the current UFC lightweight champion, wrongly accused Israel of only targeting civilians in the press conference following his victory in defending his lightweight champion belt. Despite the Biden administration acknowledging that Israel has made efforts to avoid civilian casualties, under the world's spotlight, Makhachev demonized Israelis, noting, "They [Israel] not kill some terrorist or some like people... They kill the kids. Old people, you know."
That statement was on October 21. Five days later in Makhachev's Dagestani hometown of Makhachkala, a lynch mob of 150 people stormed an airport searching for Israelis and Jews who had just arrived from Israel. A few days later, a Jewish center in another city in Russia's North Caucasus area was lit on fire. A Dagestani rabbi now assesses that the future of Jewry in Dagestan is in doubt.
Actor and activist Nathaniel Buzolic has since observed, "That [the airport mob] was motivated by... one specific individual. It's the UFC fighter who comes from that region of the world. After his fight, he said something very publicly about how he was going to fight and stand with the Palestinian people. He made it very, very clear that he was against Israel..."
While it remains questionable who this fighter exactly is, athletes bear tremendous influence, and the above three fighters from within or near Dagestan abused their platform to incite hatred against Israelis and Jews through their misinformation and antisemitism. And so did another now-retired Dagestani UFC legend, Khabib Nurmagomedov, who wrongly accused Israel of bombing the Al Ahli hospital and of genocide. Unlike their conduct in the octagon, the consequences of these fighters' actions could have been deadly had the passengers from Israel not been rescued in time.
The UFC has the basis to discipline fighters for their antisemitic and pro-terrorism remarks. The UFC Athlete Conduct policy notes that "sanctions, contractual penalties, and/or contractual termination" may be imposed for misconduct that includes "[i]nappropriate physical, verbal and online behavior (such as inappropriate statements made via e-mail, text messaging or social networks)."
As UFC fighters appear to enable antisemitism and terrorism throughout social media, the consequences could become deadly, especially as antisemitism surges worldwide. The UFC must enforce its code of conduct and chokehold the antisemitism that emanates from its octagon before it indeed becomes deadly.
Jordan Cope, Esq. is the Director of Policy Education at StandWithUs, an international non-profit educational organization devoted to combating antisemitism and misinformation about Israel.