Fighting In Cage, Talking About Peace

Arab-American Fighter Ramsey Nijem Channels Matisyahu

By Elliot Olshansky

Published July 18, 2012, issue of July 20, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

When Ramsey Nijem strode cockily into the ring for a televised mixed-martial arts bout June 2011, the breakout star of the 13th season of the Ultimate Fighting Championship reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter,” was draped in a Palestinian flag, a tribute to his father’s homeland.

Ramsey Nijem
getty images
Ramsey Nijem

The music blasting through the Las Vegas arena? “One Day,” by Jewish rapper Matisyahu.

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There’ll be no more wars

To some, a song about peace seemed to be an unusual choice for a man preparing to fight inside a cage in Sin City. And then there was the eyebrow-raising fact that a Palestinian American chose a song about peace by a Jewish artist.

Nijem insists that his choice of attire and music was not meant to send a specific message about the Middle East. Instead, he said, he just casually chose two things that he likes and that have meaning for him.

“I didn’t really preplan it as much as a lot of people thought,” said 24-year-old Nijem, who grew up in Washington state. He said he liked the song’s beat, and the message that “we are all people at the end of the day,” though he never intended to get political.

But now, Nijem says that while he is committed to putting his fighting first, he has come around to the fact that his rising profile might give him a chance to change the way people think about Israel and Palestine — something he semi-unwittingly tried to do last year.

“There’s a lot of smarter people out there that I think could solve it other than me,” he said, referring to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. “But the most important thing is to be open to dialogue, and to not allow the people who aren’t open to dialogue to set the tone.”

Nijem is an up-and-coming star in the world of competitive mixed martial arts, a combat sport that is promoted by the UFC and combines disciplines like kickboxing and karate with wrestling and judo. The UFC’s bouts, or matches, are staged in a trademark octagon-shaped cage and draw huge audiences of millions on cable and pay-per-view TV.

Nijem was born in Concord, CA to a Spanish-American mother and Palestinian father, who grew up in a hardscrabble refugee camp in the West Bank. He instilled in his son the importance of freedom for the Palestinian people, but did not pass along any resentment of Israel or Jews.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.