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“Yiddo, yiddo, yiddo,” they chant, amidst screeched hissing sounds.
The recent FA decision to criminalise Tottenham Hotspur fans who refer to themselves as the “Yid Army” must be seen as ludicrous. “Yid”, literally the Yiddish for “Jew”, is a broadly neutral term, with only Yiddish speakers actively using it. However, the term often takes a pejorative use, as Tottenham fans are taunted by it. We should not condemn Spurs fans who use it as a badge of pride, in defiance of their anti-Semitic abusers. We should instead focus on the true enemy; those whose extreme views would seek a world without the Jewish race.
The “Yid Army” itself is quite a peculiar phenomenon. Whilst the team is known for it’s Jewish following, its fans are still predominantly non-Jewish. The term therefore shows one thing: pride. A pride in the team and its Jewish heritage in north London. The term “Yid Army” is about unity; a unity against anti-Semitism and a heroic defiance against those who wish to promote anti-Semitism. The emergence of the term itself was primarily reactive, as opposing teams started to use it to abuse Spurs’ Jewish following. Thus the “Yid Army” came about as both Jewish and non-Jewish fans stood together in the face of anti-Semitic abuse.
The FA’s decision is worrying in that it seems to place the onus on Spurs fans, not their abusers, for anti-Semitic abuse. Punishing Tottenham supporters, given that many of them will have been subjected to the most heinous abuses throughout their lives, is punishing those most in need of our help. As English football’s governing body, the FA has a powerful position which is able to create and implement cultural change within the beautiful game. It is an affront to decency for them to not do this and instead focus on the victims of abuse. In abdicating its duty, the FA is sidelining anti-Semitism and distinguishing it from other forms of abuse. It is aggravating the problem, as Spurs fans will now be even more likely to use the term, as to defend themselves against another source of condemnation. This has the potential to inflame the situation even further, which is surely not a desirable outcome for anyone.
Spurs fans are clearly not legitimising the abuse, in the same way that some black people do not legitimise racism by using the “N” word. The reclaiming of words has always occurred and is done in defiance, not approval. As with the “N” word, many may feel uncomfortable with people using the “Y” word as one of unity, but it is not their place to judge. The sorrow and terror of the Holocaust is not just a historical event for modern Jews, it is something which has shaped their world view and which they still have many questions about. This begs the question as to how their Jewish following are expected to react in the face of intense hissing from opposing fans, imitating the gassing which killed millions of Jewish people. Naturally, they cannot merely stand there in silence, impotent in the face of such abuse. The “Yid Army” replaces that silence, as a call to arms against such terrible abuse, and as a means of all Tottenham fans standing as one.
Anti-Semitism continues to march on in a seemingly interminable fashion, so we must ignore the distractions coming from this controversy. The ceaseless debate about the “Yid Army” cannot be seen as anything other than a dangerous distraction, especially when anti-Semitic jibes are still so widespread. Of course the use of the “Yid Army” term may be unsavory, but it must be stomached until opposing chants about Auschwitz stop, until anti-Semitic attacks on Spurs fans at European matches halt and the FA recognises its duty towards both Jewish and non-Jewish. When Jews and non-Jews alike stand side-by-side in the face of anti-Semitic abuse, chanting in unison, I feel we are moving forth towards greater cohesion, not backwards.