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Forget Who Is a Jew. For British Soccer Fans, Question Is, Can You Be a Yid?

For decades, Tottenham Spurs fans have used the slur as a badge of pride. Now the Football Association wants them to stop.

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Tottenham Hotspur fans look down to the lower tier at the crowd trouble during their UEFA Cup quarter final match between Sevilla and Tottenham Hotspur at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium on April 5, 2007 in Sevilla, Spain. (Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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The Baddiel brothers then teamed up with the anti-racist organization Kick It Out, producing a video in which leading footballers past and present urged fans to stop engaging in behavior that would, under Britain’s stringent laws against hate speech, subject them to criminal charges if they called someone in the street or in the supermarket a “Yid.” If abusing someone with the ‘N’ word is no longer acceptable, the video argued, shouldn’t the same principle apply to the ‘Y’ word as well?

According to Kuper, that depends upon who’s saying it and why. Tottenham fans, as the FA recognized, use the word as a badge of pride, unlike their opponents, who use it as hate speech. “I think common sense shows which chant is more malicious. We’re talking about hate speech, and it doesn’t seem to me that calling yourself ‘Yid Army’ is hate speech,” said Kuper. He also cited the example of Ajax (pronounced Ai-yax), the Amsterdam club whose Jewish pedigree is just as tenuous as Tottenham’s but whose fans behave in much the same way as Spurs faithful. “Ajax fans calls themselves Super Jews and wave Israeli flags, and fans of other Dutch clubs shout anti-Semitic abuse at the Ajax fans,” Kuper said. “If you wave an Israeli flag and say, ‘This is who we are,’ it might be absurd, and it might make no sense, but it’s not hate speech. If you chant songs about Auschwitz, that is hate speech.”

Baddiel argues that the word, popular with the black-shirted fascists who harassed Jews in London’s East End during the 1930s, is intrinsically a form of hate speech, no matter who wields it. That is why he hopes that Spurs fans can be educated out of their “Yid” fixation. “I’d rather have that than banning orders and censorship and that sort of thing,” Baddiel said. “Tottenham fans are not identifying because they are proud to be Jewish, they are doing it because they are proud to be Tottenham fans.” What that means, he argued, is that it’s up to Jews who aren’t part of the Tottenham side to make clear to the team’s fans that “Yid” is a slur that’s unacceptable in any context. “It’s not their word to reclaim,” Baddiel said. “It’s our word to reclaim if we want to. You can’t have a group of non-Jews reclaiming it just because they’re Tottenham fans.”

The tide of history appears to be on Baddiel’s side, insofar as the days when attending a soccer game caused you to fear for your life are rapidly drawing to a close. All-seater stadiums, a family atmosphere, and lucrative sponsorship deals have made English soccer more safe and more tolerant, though nostalgists will bemoan that, as a spectacle, the game has become somewhat anodyne as a consequence.

That’s why those who want to catch the last gasp of the “Y” word, as well as the occasional sight of an Israeli flag fluttering on the terraces, would do well to tune in to a Tottenham game sooner rather than later. By this time next year, both the Yid Army and its enemies may well have been vanquished.

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Forget Who Is a Jew. For British Soccer Fans, Question Is, Can You Be a Yid?

For decades, Tottenham Spurs fans have used the slur as a badge of pride. Now the Football Association wants them to stop.

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