Borderline Views: The ‘Yid’ army

Anti-Semitism is a real and renaissant problem in parts of Europe. It has to be combated in every possible way, both by community representatives and by the police authorities.

CHELSEA’S DIDIER Drogba Tottenham Hotspur fans 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
CHELSEA’S DIDIER Drogba Tottenham Hotspur fans 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The British press has been taken up with the issue of racism and anti-Semitism in sport during the past few weeks.
Most of the discussion has focused on the treatment of black players. But this past week, a new issue has re-emerged, concerning the use of what has been dubbed the “Y word” by supporters of the North London football club Tottenham Hotspur.
Traditionally known for its large Jewish support, supporters of the club have, over the years, affectionately labeled themselves as the “Tottenham Yids.” It is not uncommon for thirty thousand fans to sing the phrase “yiddo” or “yid army” following the scoring of a goal or in appreciation of a specific player or manager. Neither is it uncommon for the Jewish fans of the club to join in the singing, seeing this as a term of self-endearment rather than hatred or anti-Semitism.
The latest attempt to highlight the issue has not come from representatives of the Jewish community such as the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council or the Community Security Trust. This time, it has been the chairman of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA), Peter Herbert, who has taken up the fight on behalf of the “beleaguered Yids.”
An article in last week’s Daily Telegraph by James Lawton argued that the use of the word is indefensible, while Frank Furedi, writing in The Independent, argued that the attempt to ban the use of the term was no more than a sanctimonious moral crusade and an exercise in political correctness. This follows on a video which was made last year, starring Jewish comedian David Baddiel, which came out strongly against the use of the word by Tottenham supporters.
At one point the club, whose owners and chairman are themselves Jewish, were in favor of police attempts to ban the use of the word at games. But following protestations on behalf of the fans, this policy was dropped and both the club and the police have accepted that the use of the term by the Tottenham fans is not offensive.
In response, Tottenham fans have produced T-shirts, flags and other sportswear with the phrase “I am a proud Tottenham Yid” emblazoned on the front, often accompanied with the Magen David. It is not uncommon these days to see people who are identifiably Jewish at games, sporting beards and wearing kippot quite openly, behavior which would have been deemed much more dangerous back in the 1970s and 1980s, when hooliganism and racism was a much greater problem within British sport in general, and football in particular.
Historically, Tottenham was the team in North London – home to 80 percent of the Anglo Jewish community – which attracted the Jewish supporters, then living in the East End of London and finding transportation links to this ground easier than to their hated rivals, Arsenal. Today, the Jewish support for football in London is shared equally between the two clubs and it is often the major topic of discussion for people attending synagogue on a Shabbat morning, many of whom will switch from the religion of God to the religion of sport, as they rush to get to the game on time at either White Hart Lane (Tottenham) or the Emirates Stadium (Arsenal) following the end of Shabbat morning services.
In the past this duplicate Shabbat activity (for all except for the Orthodox) gave rise to the famous chant of “Does your rabbi know where you are?” – a chant which was heard in Tel Aviv three years ago when Tottenham played Hapoel Tel Aviv. Among the spectators were many North London yeshiva students who were studying at the time in Israel and who jokingly sang the song. It has more recently been used as the title of a book, published just last month, by UK Jewish sports columnist Anthony Clavane on the topic of Jewish support of British football teams, past and present.
Although the football authorities in the UK probably have one of the best records in the world in their campaign to ban racism from sport, the Black Lawyers Society argue that it is still not stringent enough. This has been highlighted in recent cases involving prominent soccer players, such as Luiz Suares from Liverpool and John Terry from Chelsea, both of whom were found guilty of mouthing racist remarks at their opponents, while charges of racism have also been leveled against a leading football referee, Mark Clattenberg, and are presently being investigated.
Jews have always been prominent in the fight against racism and in support of civil rights and ethnic minorities.
But the same cannot always be said for the leaders of the Black community in combating anti-Semitism. It is not clear what motives lie behind this sudden condemnation of the use of the Y-word by the Black Lawyers Society, other than an attempt to deflect the criticism from where it really belongs, the continued racism against black citizens and sports players, which, so it would appear, it still endemic within certain parts of British society.
Ironically, the most popular “yid” at Tottenham right now is a black player, Jermaine Defoe, who has hit top form and scored many goals in recent weeks. But that is not really surprising given the fact that black players are prominent among all teams in the UK, while Jewish football players are few and far between – they tend to support and own the teams, but playing football (or any other sport) is not really considered a proper profession for a Jewish boy.
The comparison is made between the use of the Y word and the “N” (nigger) or the “W” (wog) word as a term of defamation. But while the latter are always used in a deprecatory fashion, this is not always the case with the term “yid.” Many Jews use it as part of their daily speech, the “Jewish talk” which is a mixture of English (or any local language) and a smattering of Yiddish expressions. Imagine a religious Jew being arrested on the charge of using a racist term, when all he has done is to ask, quite politely, whether the guest or the stranger is a yid (is he Jewish?).
But equally, when used by fans of other teams to define Tottenham, the use of the term “yid,” is often defamatory and racist. When accompanied by hissing noises to represent the gas of the gas chambers, this is blatant anti- Semitism of the worst kind. When a Jew walking down the street is confronted by a racist who calls him a “dirty yid” this is a clear example of racism and anti-Semitism.
Will the use of such anti-Semitic terminologies disappear as the result of an attempt to have a legitimate word banned altogether? It is highly unlikely and it us even possible that the use of the term in an affectionate manner will eventually lead to it becoming neutralized in wider society, rather than being used by the anti-Semites and the racists.
Anti-Semitism is a real and renaissant problem in parts of Europe. It has to be combated in every possible way, both by community representatives and by the police authorities. But perhaps it would be better if the BLA were to expend its energies in combating racism and anti-Semitism in the right places, rather than diverting the issue away from its real roots. The ongoing legal action against the University Teachers Union in the UK for expressions of anti-Semitism is a case in point. Well meaning sports fans, having a joke at their own team’s expense, shouldn’t be made the scapegoats.
The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at BGU. He retains his strong support of Tottenham Hotspur despite living in Israel for 30 years.