On Wednesday, The FA (the governing body of English football) released a statement threatening to prosecute supporters of Tottenham Hotspur for the use of the word “Yid” in chants. The word is offensive, they say, regardless of how the supporters use it, even if it is used in a supportive manner.
By using the term in this manner, fans may be clouding the issue by making it harder to differentiate its use by these fans and by those who use the term in an intentionally offensive manner. Further, use of the term in a public setting could amount to a criminal offence, and leave those fans liable to prosecution and potentially a lengthy football banning order.
I am a Yid. I am a Kike. I am a Sheeney. I am part of the global financial conspiracy and The Elders of Zion. I am a Jew. My wife is a Jew. My son is a Jew. My parents, brother, sister, grandparents, all Jews. My family killed in Poland? Jews. The ones that fled to Israel? Jews.
I am also a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur.
And I’m split on this issue.
There is a hackneyed saying that if you have two Jews in the room you have three opinions. Well here’s one Jew that is of two minds.
First, as they say, came the word. “Yid” (I refuse to write “the Y-word”) does not carry the emotional charge in the States that it does in England. For me it is simply the Yiddish word for “Jew.” But then I never had bald-headed bomber jacketed thugs spit at me and call me a “Fucking Yid.” But to be honest, I’ve also never had someone call me a “fucking Jew.” I’ve been called “faggot,” “pussy,” “cracker,” and, ironically, “Hitler youth.” The latter was from a fascist Jew counter-protesting against a Peace Rally in front of the U.N.
At a funeral in Maine, a few years ago, a drunk woman asked where I was headed after the reception. I said that I was returning back to my parents outside of Boston. “Oh to Jewton?” She asked, referring to the predominantly Jewish suburb of Newton. Around her people laughed.
I replied, “no to Belmont,” and walked away.
It wasn’t her statement that rankled. One look at her and I knew that she was a low-life piece of garbage, wasted at funeral, taking out whatever she could on whoever was around. But it was the laughter from the rest of the people that did get to me.
Growing up in New York City the concept that Jews are a minority was hard to grasp. My Lutheran friend from Chicago immediately announced, upon arrival in NYC, that he finally felt Jewish here. His grandmother was a convert and yet the very nature of the city seemed to bring out his latent ethnic identity.
But there, in Maine, I suddenly felt very much alone. Had I been brave, or skilled in Kung-Fu, I may have said “no, Jew-Belmont” or “yes Jewton. We live in Jewton where we feed on the bones of Christians, you ignorant hick.” But I was alone and outnumbered.
And here is where the Tottenham chants feel powerful to me. As the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust said in their response to the FA: “Our fans historically adopted the chant as a defense mechanism in order to own the term and thereby deflect anti-Semitic abuse. They do not use the term with any deliberate intent to cause offence.”
This notion of solidarity is, to me, probably the greatest thing about Tottenham Hotpur. The very fact that rather than downplay the Jewish character of Tottenham, we embraced it and wore it like a badge saying, in effect, “yes there are Jews here, and so long as you hate the Jews then we are all Jews.”
It was, and may still be, a glorious act of the many protecting the few. It is people changing their Facebook profiles to photos of black hoodies following the injustice of Trayvon Martin’s shooting. It is, as Jonathan Gelberg a Tottenham supporter living in Israel said, “nothing short of heroic.”
In an email exchange with Gelberg, he likened the historical reason behind the “Yid” chant to the apocryphal story of Danish King Christian X wearing a Jewish star on his arm during WWII. “As a Jew,” he wrote, “it feels like the Spurs fans have stood behind their prosecuted minority…saying ‘we’re with you and we’ll stand together.’ That’s a tremendous thing that no other friend of Jews has ever done in a very long history.”
It’s a wonderful sentiment, and one that I share. And yet, is that what’s going through the heads of a stand full of fans singing: “Yiddo! Jermaine Defoe, he’s a Yiddo!” Or are they, as has been suggested, simply enacting a tribal identity? We are Tottenham, Tottenham supporters are “Yids” therefor… “Yiddo!”
I’m often asked whether I, an American, support Tottenham because they are the “Jewish” club and my response is always no. If I wanted a Jewish club I’d support Hapoel Tel Aviv (not only Jews but Socialists! A double whammy!) or Ajax, or even Bayern Munich!
Tottenham are not, technically, a Jewish club. It was not part of the Jewish leagues, it was not founded by Jews, it was not an institution designed to provide Jews access to something that was otherwise forbidden to them.
My feeling when watching Ajax supporters sing “Hava Nagila” is that it is a form of black face. Had the Austin Black Senators joined Major League Baseball when the Negro Leagues were disbanded in 1950, would it be okay for white fans to show up to games wearing fake Afros, calling each other “Pickaninny.” Or worse?
When Ajax wave the Israeli flag, I feel uncomfortable.
When Tottenham sing “Jermaine Defoe he’s a Yiddo!” I cheer along, gleefully.
The reason is that for Ajax, Jews are mascots.
But what if that’s the case for the Tottenham supporters as well? What if this isn’t just a reclamation of a charged word, and a removal of its power?
I interviewed Paul Scott, a Jewish supporter from Birmingham who wrote, “it is a way of responding to the anti-Semitism and hate that clubs like West Ham, Chelsea aim at Spurs when they visit the Lane; by singing the word ‘Yid’ it removes at least one of the ways that they can insult us and spread their venomous hate.”
But Scott also said that it is, in fact, a form of collective identification — a way of naming ourselves as fans.
It’s this collective identification that I’m uncomfortable with. It’s this that smacks of mascot-ism. It’s this that diminishes the truth of how horrible anti-Semitism really feels. When West Ham fans make hissing sounds to simulate the gas chambers, and Spurs fans respond by chanting “Yid Army!” does the average fan think of the horror and pain of knowing that if only your entire family hadn’t stayed in Poland you might have cousins, and aunts and uncles, and family reunions? Or do they simply think, “oh man, they’re making fun of my team.”
It’s this collective identification that makes me understand the furor that Native Americans feel when they turn on the news and have to hear about the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Redskins.
The most repeated phrase, following the FA’s announcement was that if “Jewish Tottenham supporters are uncomfortable then we should address it from within.”
I asked Melissa Davies Oliveck, a Jewish supporter from London if she sings “Yid” she replied, “No, never…I hate the word as I find it abusive… I think this language is derogatory, however much we think we’ve ‘reclaimed’ it.”
She did not, however, go so far as to say that it shouldn’t be sung.
I will put it simply: if you sing “Yid” simply because that is what has always been done, then you have at least one fan that’s uncomfortable.
If you sing “Yid” because no one in the world has the right to be racist and anti-Semitic, and you believe in standing in solidarity with minorities being attacked, then by all means I stand alongside you.
But of course, there is the Adebayor/Levy conundrum.
Oh, the songs that were sung to Adebayor when he played for Arsenal. Oh, the blatantly racist abuse hurled from the Tottenham faithful. Oh, the posts last year about Levy being “too cheap” to be our chairman, and calling him “penny pinching” and “sneaky.”
We think of ourselves as above it all. We think of ourselves as standing up for the little guy. But we must look within as well.
Every time we allow a racist comment from within to go unanswered we are undermining our righteous position. Every time we chant a hateful, bullying, abusive remark we are revealing the flimsiness of the “Yid army.” And every time we use coded language to call Daniel Levy a Jew as a pejorative, we have relinquished our right — in my mind at least — to call ourselves Yids.
But all this is beside the point. This is internal politics within ourselves, and we must address it as we see fit.
The FA ruling is wrong. Period. Full stop (whatever you call it).
“I’ve also witnessed real Anti-Semitism, particularly from Cheslea fans.” Oliveck said. She even made a complaint when Wolves supporters directed Nazi salutes at Tottenham. “I was told that I shouldn’t be complaining as the Spurs fans called themselves Yids.”
Here lies the crux of the FA’s statement and comedian, and Chelsea supporter, David Baddiel’s argument. In November of 2012 he wrote that the “use of the Y-word by Spurs fans informs and sustains the racist abuse aimed at Spurs by other fans.”
I find the FA and Baddiel’s argument repugnant.
It is the linguistic version of saying women shouldn’t wear skirts because men won’t be able to help themselves from raping them. Or that Egyptians shouldn’t wear headdresses because it will incite attacks against Arabs. Or, as Louisiana Governer Bobby Jindal put it:
We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans… to name just a few. Here’s an idea: How about just “Americans?” That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our “separateness” is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot.
In other words, racism wouldn’t exist if people stopped being proud of their heritage. Or, anti-Semitic morons wouldn’t exist in England if Tottenham supporters stopped calling themselves “Yids.”
This is the worst kind of blaming the victims that there is.
If the FA, UEFA, and FIFA are serious about stopping racism then there are steps that should be taken. When West Ham supporters hiss and sing “Hitler was a Cockney” the team should be held accountable, just as Lazio should be held accountable, just as Chelsea should be accountable. Just as Tottenham should be held accountable for the racists in our own midst.
Blaming Tottenham for anti-Semitism, however, is like blaming Manchester United for having flown British European Airways rather than punishing the idiots that use Munich Air Disaster as fodder for abusive chants during football games.
It’s wrongheaded and offensive. And no one –I repeat — no one has the right to tell this Jew what to call himself.
But my fellow supporters, I beg you to look within. I humbly ask you to think about it when you sing “Yid Army.” Are you protecting me? Are you standing with me in solidarity? Are you defending the minorities against the majority as was so nobly done in the past? Or are you turning me into a little doll that you wave about with little or no care to who I really am?
This Saturday is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish Year. A day in which Jews around the world will fast and contemplate the many ways they have transgressed against God and man in the past year. Tottenham, on the other hand, will be kicking off against Norwich. Thousands of people will sing “Yiddo” in defiance of the FA. I hope some of them will do so with some meaning in their hearts.