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Yid – Diffusing racism or divisively offensive?

The ongoing controversy surrounding the use of the term ‘Yid’ is placing football in the headlines for what many will think are the wrong reasons.

Now referred to as ‘the Y-word’, the term was initially adopted by Tottenham Hotspur’s (Spurs’) opponent’s fans, in reference to Tottenham’s strong north London Jewish contingent of supporters.

It was a term intended to to be divisive by emphasizing the Jewish following of Spurs, with negative connotations. It was flipped on its head, and transformed from an insult into a badge of honor, defusing racism and promoting unity amongst all their fans, Jewish, and non.

Spurs’ became ‘the yids’. All fans, Jewish and non, became ‘Yiddos’ indiscriminately, and until recently, this term was largely not overtly seen as motivated by racial hate. However it has become to be considered a word that prompts offense, prosecutable for users (even Spurs’ fans), and in need of being rooted out seemingly at whatever cost.

This step, to try and root it out was taken irrespective of the fact that most Spurs fans take it as a badge of pride, and a symbol of their unity. This is why it is so contentious. Something non offensive to the users is considered offensive by the authorities.

Prominent Jewish journalist, David Aaronovitch emphasized even as early [in terms of this issue] as 2007, that the term ‘Yid’, or the use of ‘Yid Army’ or any other ‘Y’ related term, was used much of the time to defuse racism, in the Jewish chronicle. [Times Online]

He said “We were some of the first fans to be fully anti-racist. The National Front gave up trying to leaflet around White Hart Lane, and I never once heard the monkey sounds being made by Spurs fans.. [people were] deterred by the reactions of the supporters all around.” essentially It made Spurs fans more tolerant.

The view that this term is not offensive, as is stressed by many Spurs fans, and Aaronovitch, was reinforced by David Cameron PM, who told the Jewish Chronicle that: ‘“There’s a difference between Spurs fans self-describing themselves as ‘Yids’ and someone calling someone a ‘Yid’ as an insult. You have to be motivated by hate. Hate speech should be prosecuted, but only when it’s motivated by hate.”  Essentially, this seems to be a case of legality, and where a term is motivated by hate, whereas many Spurs supporters argue it is actually a disarming tactic.

Nevertheless, in the Telegraph, The match commander for Sunday’s game between West Ham and Spurs, Chief Superintendent Mick Johnson, said:

“Those supporters who engage in such behavior should be under no illusion that they may be committing an offense and may be liable to a warning or be arrested.”

Spurs’ stadium holds over 36,000 people, and on the 6th October, when rivals West Ham played against Spurs, one fan was arrested for using the term. That is not a very good proportion, and indicates difficult enforceability.

However, the use of the term ‘Yid’ also allows for some opposition fans an excuse for what they think is legitimate racism or antisemitism. When West Ham played Spurs, opposition fans deliberately made hissing noises to mimic gas chambers and sung anti-semitic chants, including those relating to Hitler such as ‘Adolf Hitler, he’s coming for you’. Similar activity in 2012 even provoked a response of current West Ham Manager Sam Allardyce.

Arguably this is due to rivalry in part, but of course if one set of fans sings about their Jewish support, the other are going to latch on to that and react. It may not be the only reason, but it is certainly a possibility.

Having said that, there is nothing to say that attempting to ban the term ‘Yid’ or the use of ‘Yid army’ would be effective. Spurs fans could face threats from their own board, their own team to stop being proud of saying a phrase, with the threat of prosecution. If they do, Spurs are likely to lose out financially.

It is an inherently contentious issue as it mixes legal definitions of offense, sport, politics, ethnic and religious tensions, and the backlash from opponents. If this issue is let go, all of a sudden, the authorities have seemingly given the word ‘Yid’ acceptability in a broader context, which could be even more damaging. They have turned a word which was used to diffuse racist intent, and made it a divisive issue.

About Jack Mendel


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