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“The Y Word” The Debate Continues (#FourFourJew)

This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

Vimla Appadoo is an Arsenal supporter who attended Kick It Out’s “The Y Word – The Debate Continues” on Tuesday 8th April as part of the Manchester Jewish Museum’s Four Four Jew exhibition. Vimla explains more…

The event was hosted at the National Football Museum, with a panel including Roisin Wood (Director of Kick It Out), Alex Goldberg (Chair of the FA’s Football and Faith Group), David Conn (sports journalist for The Guardian), Anthony Clavane (sports writer) and Ivan Cohen (Professor at Richmond University). 

As an ambassador for the Holocaust Educational Trust (and a huge football fan) this debate has a particularly important place in my heart.  It’s an important debate that needs to be addressed, not only in football but also in the wider community, so let’s have a little look into what sparked the debate and how “The Y Word Debate” continues.

Spurs

Last year three Spurs fans were arrested for anti-Semitic chanting at games against West Ham United and FC Sheriff. It’s common knowledge amongst football fans that Spurs supporters will often call themselves the “Yid Army” referring to Spurs’ history and association with the Jewish community.

Fast forward to March 2014 and the three fans were found not guilty of racial hatred as their chanting was found to have been said without any hateful intent; sung in support of a football team, in a uniting fashion.

So to many the question remains: Is it racist to use the “Y word”? Is it racist to use if it’s used to show support for a football team? Is it racist at all? How can you determine if something is said with hatred? That’s where the debate began…

Anthony Clavane

Clavane opened the debate by introducing himself and his stance against the use of the “Y Word”, not only by Spurs fans, but in football as a whole. All of the panel agreed that none of the Spurs fans should have been prosecuted and they disagreed with their arrest, however, as Anthony pointed out, this does not mean that the word is inoffensive.

Clavane said he’d been the victim of anti-Semitism throughout his life, with the “Y Word” being used in a derogatory and hateful way. He therefore saw the use of the word as one fuelled with racism, whether by Spurs fans in unity or not, he disagreed with the word being so freely used across football stadiums.

Another great point that Clavane made was that 95% of Spurs fans aren’t Jewish. He therefore didn’t see why non-Jewish people would try and reclaim a word that they did not know the meaning of, nor understood in a racial or religious context to say in support of a football team. To him it didn’t seem just, and if anyone should reclaim the “Y word” it should be members of the Jewish community.

David Conn

Conn began by mentioning the “conspiracy of silence” that too many people had been putting up with the use in everyday life, when it needed to be talked about. And so he began his argument. Conversely, Conn stated it was all about intent to determine whether the “Y Word” was being said in an offensive manner, suggesting he had a deeper argument to explain.

He made a point of the positive experiences he had had throughout his football fan life, however, he did note the uncomfortable situation he was in every time he heard chants referring to “yids” from away fans at White Heart Lane or home fans when Spurs were away. 

This was a point that was repeated again and again by all members of the panel, that it’s not the Spurs fans that need to be punished but fans that use “yid” against them in songs such as “You’re getting gassed in the morning” (whilst making hissing gas sounds). Conn said it’s this type of chanting that needs to be cracked down on, rather than calling yourself a member of the “Yid Army”, despite the word having negative connotations in both instances.

Conn made a point of stating that these chants were not on the same level as the racism black footballers faced in the 1980s and up to the modern day. He didn’t feel that the anti-semitism faced in football is “real” anti-semitism but more a quick fire way to try and hurt Spurs fans.

Alex Goldberg

As a member of the FA, Goldberg treaded somewhat carefully around the issues. He made it clear that the “Y Word” did not become an issue until the film was made and that the film coined the term and turned it into an issue. He agreed that Spurs fans were the wrong (and easy) target, where the real offenders are left unpunished. He said that Jewish people should use the word as a badge of honour and fans that are using it in a non-malicious way should not be prosecuted.

Goldberg cited instances in France, Ukraine, Poland where anti-semitic chants are heard throughout football stadiums, in mainly malicious ways. So, he concluded it is a great thing to have an open discussion about a topic that affects so many people in so many different countries, but whether the term should be banned at Spurs games, is a completely different point.

Ivan Cohen

Cohen presented a very interesting case indeed. As a passionate Jewish Spurs fan, he took pride in calling himself a “Yid” and using the word in everyday language. He felt comfortable in saying it and wanted it to be used in Spurs grounds, by Spurs supporters to provide them with unity.

But, it was Cohen’s references to living in a liberal democracy that shook the room the most. He said that every person has the right to be offended in the same way every person has the right to say what he or she wants. Indeed, his reasoning behind this was that no Spurs fan uses the term in a malicious manner, and therefore members of the panel, Clavane in particular, can be uncomfortable and be offended because it is their right to. In the same way it’s a fans right to use the term (as long as it’s not done in a hate-fuelled manner).

Cohen made it clear he felt away fans using Nazism as an insult deserved a punishment more than Spurs fans uniting under the term “yid”. There was a general consensus in the room that more needed to be done against fans shouting Nazi propaganda, a point the majority of people in the room supported.

Audience

From the backbenches of the crowd I could hear the muttering responses to each of the panellists, particularly after watching the “Y Word” video. It soon became clear that there were too many points of objection to be made for the debate to run as smoothly as planned.

Interestingly, the lawyer who had represented the three Spurs fans was in the crowd and made the point that they weren’t using the term maliciously and therefore should not have been arrested, a point that the whole panel agreed with.

However, tension rose when she disagreed with Jewish people being offended by the use of the word “Yid”. Clavane stated that he was offended due to Oswald Moseley’s use of the word, when marching across East London telling Clavane and his family to get out of London, and that he had every right to be offended by the word, and she had every right to disagree. However, he argued she could not tell him not to be offended. Tension definitely increased in the room.

Another point raised again by members of the audience was that it was non-Jewish people “reclaiming” the word. Comparisons were made to the “N Word”, the “P Word” and “queer”, all words reclaimed by subsequent members of society, whereas the “Y Word” was being reclaimed by a group of people separated from the roots and the meaning of Yiddish. An interesting debate circled on who should be saying it and how.

Conclusion

The debate continued and discussed the impact of football on the Jewish community, and how, overall, football was used as a tool of unity and integration. It provided a platform for Jewish people to integrate into society, go to football matches with their neighbours and hug complete strangers at a match with no acknowledgement of their religion, colour or creed.

One thing remained clear as I left the National Football Museum with my head spinning and thoughts whirling from White Hart Lane to Auschwitz: The Y Word debate will definitely continue…

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don’t necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn’t be attributed to the FSF.

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