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August 4, 2014 11:12 am
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Israeli UFC Fighter Returns to Jewish State to Rejoin IDF

avatar by Jacob Kamaras / JNS.org

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Jewish fighter Noad Lahat. Photo: Getty / Zuffa LLC

JNS.orgDays after winning his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight bout against Steven Siler on July 26, Israeli-born mixed martial arts competitor Noad Lahat boarded a plane for his native country, choosing to temporarily exit UFC’s octagonal cage to rejoin the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a paratrooper for its operation against Hamas in Gaza. Except he didn’t actually consider it a choice.

“When [our] home is in danger, there is no other way for us [but to serve in the army],” Lahat told JNS.org in a phone interview from the airport on July 30, en route to the Jewish state. “For us [Israelis] it’s not a war far away in Iraq or Afghanistan. For us it’s right at home. My family is in danger, my country… you have to go and defend it.”

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“There was no doubt about it. It wasn’t a decision,” he said.

The 30-year-old Lahat—whose return to the IDF has garnered significant media coverage, including by CNN—said he is “not looking for any long-term career in the military,” but rather is “just coming to do what I need, and then I’ll go back [to the UFC].” Amid his arrival in Israel, a deal for a 72-hour cease-fire was reached Thursday, only to collapse shortly after its 8 a.m. implementation on Friday when Hamas continued firing rockets and reportedly kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

Lahat is from the community of Alfei Menashe in Samaria. Asked about how Israeli-controlled territory in Judea and Samaria comes under frequent international scrutiny due to its location beyond the 1967 lines, Lahat said, “Everything the Jewish people do comes under criticism.” He said those who ignore the actions of human rights-abusing countries such as Syria, Sudan, and Iran “always have time to criticize the Jewish state.”

“Just the name Judea and Samaria, if anybody has any doubt about who are the native people of that place… It’s called Judea and Samaria for a reason,” said Lahat. “For me, [the critics] can keep saying whatever they say. We are the people that came home.”

What kind of a reception does Lahat’s background receive in the world of mixed martial arts? He said most people he trains with “are pro-Israel, pro-America.”

“People that have any kind of a negativity about Israel know to stay far away from me,” Lahat said. “Most of my friends that I train with, I think that 100 percent of them know what’s going on [in the Middle East], so I never had trouble with that.”

Lahat does, however, encounter cyber hate.

“Especially online, I get a lot of hate from all kinds of people,” he said. “And for me, I find it fascinating that the things that they say against Jewish people online, like ‘Death to the Jews’… you can never say that to any other minority. People say it with their full name, full picture, everybody can know who they are, and they have no problem saying it. … When people say stuff like that, I’m just ignoring them, because if someone has a question, and we have a conversation, it’s no problem. But if someone has overly anti-Semitic opinions like that, there’s no place to talk.”

While some celebrities have denounced Israel’s actions during the current conflict—such as the couple Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, Spanish actors who signed an open letter accusing the Jewish state of “genocide”—Lahat said he doesn’t feel the need to use his name recognition to speak up for Israel just because “someone else speaks.” But at the same time, he said he is “always true and always honest with who I am and what I think.”

“You see me walk out to the [UFC] cage, I have my Star of David, I have my [Israeli] flag, everybody knows who I am, I’m not hiding,” said Lahat. “I’m not feeling ashamed of who I am, I feel pride, and I always show it around. Everybody knows that I am the Israeli, and I feel 100 percent okay with that.”

Lahat said he would “never run away from anything” upon his return to the IDF, citing both the current and historical imperatives for a Jewish homeland.

“Right now, and it has always been [this way], the Jewish people are able to live everywhere just because we have a strong Jewish state,” he said. “You see the people [suffering from anti-Semitism] in France right now, [it’s] not safe there.”

“History shows that every few years, Jews need to pick up their stuff and run away,” added Lahat. “Where are they going to run to? The only place in the world that Jews are safe, and can be Jews, and not be embarrassed or ashamed or anything like that, is in Israel. So even people who don’t live in Israel have to show their support for that one safe haven in the whole world that we have.”

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  • Espinoza

    Well put. Stay safe Israel.

  • Ben Merson

    A shining example that can be held up to the world.
    A true ‘warrior’, defending his people.
    Yasher Koach.

  • every jew should carry themselves like this champion martial arts fighter….show strength nothing else….weakness died at the end of ww2….

  • PAUL WANYOIKE

    GOD BLESS YOU LAHAT FOR BEING PATRIOTIC TO YOUR MOTHERLAND STATE, LAND OF LAND. I SUPPORT IDF (SAYERRET MARKTAL)THE’VE FOUGHT MANY WARS SINCE INDEPEDENCE WAR, WHEN THE LATE HERO ARIEL SHARON JOINED ARMY AGED 14YRS AS A PARAMILITARY TROOPER.AM PRO ISRAEL..

  • Jose Duran

    Praise thee lord for giving this man the wisdom to do his heart’s bidding and choose love of family over career prospects, he is a true son of Israel

  • BNear

    The true heroes of this earths history are the Jews! As the article started, the Jews have a history of displacement, they always seem to be uprooted and sent on a travel. Israel, listen up, God’s not done with you just yet, you’ve got a lot work ahead of you and a lot of struggle left to endure. Remember this though, he brought you back to your home even in your unbelief, he won battles for you shine the nation’s re establishment, he had provided protection to you in this current conflict. There’s still much more to come though. You will find yourself with increasingly less allies and will begin to wonder how you’ll survive, remember God? He’s still the same today as he was when he defeated your enemies in olden times. Cry out to him, you’ve got the most powerful man in the world, the Lord God of your fathers. He’s eating to hear from you!

  • ZS

    Praised are those who raised him

  • james Hope

    good on you Israel all the way i hope you guys stay safe.

  • Lillian Tobin

    Noad – you are a realistic and loyal son of Israel. You are proud of who your people are despite the constant denigration from our enemies.
    You did not hide your identity and won fame none the less.I am proud of you – most importantly, I respect you.May you go from strength to strength!!! And may G”d Almighty watch over you, our young soldiers (19 & 20!) whose lives were cut short, and all of our People wherever they are, mourning and praying for salvation.

  • randi

    agreed, TRUE HERO. thank you Noad for representing am yisrael and protecting us.

  • Matt

    Please do your research. Lehat is 1-1 in the UFC, he is not the champion or even close to becoming a top contender. But, he had a good fight a few weeks ago. Kudos to him for winning his first UFC fight.

  • Corina

    True hero

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