Is This Israeli the Inspiration Behind Sacha Baron Cohen’s Erran Morad?

He teaches martial arts to celebs, has a background in counterterrorism and people won’t stop telling him looks just like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Israeli character - meet Matan Gavish

Matan Gavish / Sacha Baron Cohen
Michael Stewart / Getty Images / AFP, SHOWTIME

NEW YORK - Sacha Baron Cohen’s Show “Who is America?” has been generating laughs and grabbing headlines for weeks, as his new character, the Israeli counterterrorism expert and martial arts instructor, Erran Morad, has made a mockery of a host of elected officials.

While Cohen has not revealed the inspiration for his character, an Israeli krav maga instructor and counterterrorism expert, who has been featured extensively in U.S. media in recent years, seems to bear a striking resemblance to the muscular, black eyebrowed and squared-jawed Morad - and people have taken notice.

Meet Matan Gavish, 36, founder of the Krav Maga Academy in Manhattan, who trains celebrities and has been featured by Anderson Cooper, CBS, Fox News, BBC, and the Today Show, to name a few.

“I didn’t actually see the similarity myself, but everybody around me did. Everybody said, there is a show about you, you should watch it,” he tells Haaretz in an interview at his gym in Manhattan.

Gavish agrees that there is a physical similarity between himself and Morad, in the eyebrows, the square jaw, and the accent. “But probably, it’s the attitude, more than anything”, he adds.

The Israeli news site Mako was the first to speculate about the possible connection between Morad and the Israeli trainer, but Gavish tells Haaretz everyone, from his close friends and family to strangers on the street, have been pointing it out him since Baron Cohen unveiled his Israeli martial arts expert.

CBS News does a piece on Gavish's Krav Maga Academy
Gavish gives Anderson Cooper a lesson in krav maga.

“I have seen the show, and I’m a big fan. I started watching it right when it came out, and I thought it’s  brilliant. Erran Morad is the perfect Israeli character. I think he portrays the caricature of the Israeli soldier, and I thought the way he portrays it with the accent, the body language, is hysterical on one hand, but fairly accurate on another. “I don’t take it personally,” he adds.

Though he has never met Baron Cohen, his own instructional self-defense videos bear a striking resemblance to the skits that have brought fame to Morad.

In addition to frequent media appearances which he says have turned him “into the face of krav maga in the U.S.,” Gavish also works as a personal trainer with celebrity clientele. Among his clients are TV stars who come to train for fight scenes, like David Mazus, who portrays Batman on the hit show Gotham, or Rupert Grint, who played a CIA agent in Showtime’s show Homeland.

Matan Gavish lessons in krav maga for self-defense.

Gavish’s background is also similar to that of the character: Like Morad, the counterterrorism expert from Israel, Gavish says he has served in a counterterrorist unit in the Israeli military, and says he still returns to Israel to train officers and instructors in the unit.

The last training session took place last year, and he keeps a certificate of gratitude he received from the IDF.  Like Morad, he has also shared his experience with American police and soldies: “We have trained law enforcement, NYPD, Navy Seals, and federal units”, he says.

His favorite Erran Morad bit is the “Kinderguardians” - in which Baron Cohen’s Israeli character unwittingly convinces gun activists that Israel trains kids as young as 3 to bear arms to help protect themselves against terrorists. Gavish calls the show “brilliant,” saying “It really exposes the stupidity of some people that we look to for leadership and decision-making.”