May the Yid Army march on forever
Proud Yiddo Frank Furedi says the speech police should leave Spurs fans alone.
The World Jewish Congress and the Board of Deputies of British Jews clearly have a lot of time on their hands. They have called on Tottenham Hotspur Football Club to act over Spurs fans’ continued use of what they delicately refer to as ‘the Y-word’. That very phrase – ‘the Y-word’ – is designed to suggest that this word is the moral equivalent of the N-word. Let’s say it: Yid. And the truth is that there is nothing morally wrong with Spurs fans chanting ‘Yid Army’ or ‘Yiddo, Yiddo’. On the contrary, through self-identifying as Yids they are expressing a sense of pride in their football club.
Anyone who attends a Spurs match will know right away that the Yid chants have nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Spurs have long had a large Jewish fanbase, and fans, both Jewish and gentile, embraced the label as an act of solidarity and defiance. Unfortunately, the World Jewish Congress is not prepared to give Spurs fans the benefit of the doubt. Its chief executive, Robert Singer, says the word Yid ‘has for years been re-appropriated from its original Yiddish to carry a distinctly pejorative and anti-Semitic message, and its use by fans in the stands, either as a self-designated nickname or as a slogan against rivals, must not be tolerated in any way’.
Who made Singer a god who must decide how football fans describe themselves? Exactly what damage has been caused by Spurs fans who exuberantly remind the world that they self-identify as Yids? If Jewish supporters of Spurs are happy with these chants, what right does Singer have to dictate that they should change their behaviour?
When my fellow Spurs fans chant ‘Yid Army’, you can feel their palpable pride. For many of them, their positive embrace of the word Yid is an act of self-determination. To turn a term of abuse into a positive form of self-affirmation is an accomplishment. To flaunt the phrase ‘Yids’ in the face of the rest of the world is to deprive those who would like to use this word as an anti-Semitic slight of any powers of degradation they might once have enjoyed.
On 24 November, I watched my team beat Chelsea 3-1. When our Korean player, Son Heung-min, scored a spectacular goal, the stadium erupted with chants of ‘Yiddo, Yiddo’. I doubt that even the most zealous member of the language police could have drawn the conclusion that this was anti-Semitic. It was an expression of innocent joy.
I doubt whether Robert Singer has been anywhere near a football ground or talked to the fans who take delight in chanting about ‘Yids’. He comes across as a functionary who embraces the simplistic idea that the best way to combat anti-Semitism is by policing language. Sadly, such a bureaucratic approach fails to distinguish between genuine instances of anti-Semitism – such as when Chelsea fans recently hurled anti-Jewish invective at their opponents in Budapest – and Spurs fans celebrating being Yids.
Anti-Jewish sentiment cannot be defeated by censoring words. The meaning of words is not always self-evident; it very much depends on context. In some instances even the most neutral phrases can be used to communicate hatred and prejudice. In good company, composed of educated middle-class people, it is unlikely that anyone would openly denounce ‘dirty Jews’. However, euphemistic terms like ‘those people who like to stick together…’ can convey a sense of anti-Semitism as surely as an explicit attack on Jewish people can.
Illiberal calls to police language are likely to have illiberal consequences. In the campaign against Spurs supporters, the censors have gone so far as to invent a problem where one does not exist. What makes this initiative so inane is that its target is not racist fans but fans who use the term Yid as a badge of honour. The aim of this moral crusade is to undermine the self-constructed identity of football fans.
Spurs fans see themselves as Yids. That is the identity they have freely chosen and cultivated over many years. No one has the right to deprive them of this identity. May the Yid Army march on forever!
Frank Furedi’s How Fear Works: the Culture of Fear in the 21st Century is published by Bloomsbury Press.
Watch Spurs fans speak up for their right to use the word Yid:
Picture by: Getty.