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Spurs Defend Supporters Against Claims of Anti-Semitism

After another wave of racism allegations in English football, Tottenham supporters are being targeted for their self-identification use of "Yid."

Ian Walton

According to The Guardian's report, Tottenham Hotspur is facing the threat of police complaint against its supporters for their use of "Yid." The Society of Black Lawyers is claiming the supporters are participating in anti-Semitic abuse which must be stopped. Peter Herbert, Chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, stated his reasons for the allegations.

"It does not make a difference if it is Tottenham fans doing the chants or away fans - if they continue to do it we will report it to the police," Hebert said. "There has to be zero tolerance and if that catches out Spurs then so be it."

Asked about Jewish fans themselves singing the chant, he said: "That's not acceptable either."

He said: "If neither Tottenham FC nor the FA are willing to take a stand then SBL will report the matter to the Metropolitan Police Service for investigation and, if necessary, prosecution. The report will be made if this behaviour does not cease by 20 November. We will have monitors in attendance to observe what occurs."

However, Tottenham Hotspur takes a very different view of the issue. Historically, the adoption of the self-identification "Yid" among the Spurs supporters comes from a reappropriation. Spurs supporters used of the term began as a response against anti-Semitic abuse from rival supporters. As the firm culture rose through England in the 1970's, Spurs supporters became the Yid Army, embracing the Jewish population of North London and the supporter-base.

Tottenham's statement stands with this self-identification, writing:

"Our position on this topic is very clear," a Tottenham statement read. "The club does not tolerate any form of racist or abusive chanting. Our guiding principle in respect of the 'Y-word' is based on the point of law itself - the distinguishing factor is the intent with which it is used - if it is used with the deliberate intention to cause offence. This has been the basis of prosecutions of fans of other teams to date.

"Our fans adopted the chant as a defence mechanism in order to own the term and thereby deflect anti-Semitic abuse. They do not use the term to others to cause any offence, they use it a chant amongst themselves.

"The club believes that real anti-Semitic abuse such as hissing to simulate the noise of gas chambers is the real evil and the real offence. We believe this is the area that requires a determined and concerted effort from all parties and where we seek greater support to eradicate."

Personally, the SBL's allegations seem to be extremely problematic. As they are not members of the group whose term was reappropriated, it is very difficult for them to claim it is abuse. Reappropriation is a complicated issue, one that requires an open dialogue between those in the original group and those who choose to identify under it. To lose this subtlety and simply reduce the issue to abuse misunderstands that the vast majority can identify with the minority.

I have written about this before, as has my colleague The Sleeper's Sleep. I suggest you read both articles, but here is an excerpt of my thoughts when facing anti-Semitic abuse and the Spurs' supporters use of Yid Army:

"When I first went to White Hart Lane and chanted myself among the "Yid Army" and inducted Louis Saha upon his first goal as a "Yiddo", it had not hit me yet. It was only when I myself heard that chanting in Boleyn, the one which linked my religion, culture, and football team as something to be abused that I got it.

It means something that Tottenham supporters stand with the minority and count themselves brothers-in-arms. [...] All I can say is that for me, it means something. That as a Spurs supporter that I come into a rich culture of standing together, rather than easily isolating what is different."