Today’s announcement by Tottenham Hotspur of its review into the use of the word “Yid” (now rebranded the “Y-word”) by many of its fans is absurd. Rather than tackling anti-Semitism such initiatives make it harder to fight it.

Spurs fans use the word “Yid” as a form of positive self-identification. It is chanted with pride rather as a form of abuse.

Context matters. Yet Spurs itself does not seem to understand this basic point. Spurs announcement notes that 94% of its fans acknowledge the word ‘yid’ “can be considered a racist term against a Jewish person”. And of course that is true. It should not need a comprehensive survey to point that point.

But the operative word in that sentence is “can”. It can be a form of abuse in some contexts while being something else entirely in others.

If someone, say, hits a Jewish person while shouting the word “Yid” that is clearly a form of abuse. Or if someone screams “Yid” at a group of visibly Jewish people that is also anti-Semitic.

But if Spurs fans describe themselves as “Yids” with pride that is not a form of abuse. On the contrary, it is an expression of affection.

The involvement by John Mann, the government’s independent adviser on this matter, has only muddied matters still further. The peer and former Labour MP seems unable to make such basic distinctions.

For example, he makes a spurious link between the alleged chanting of anti-Semitic abuse from a bus in Stamford Hill and Spurs fans (to my knowledge there is no audio recording of the incident and no one has been arrested yet). The act was no doubt appalling but there is no sign of any link with Spurs. Yet Mann was quoted in the Jewish News as saying:

“The recent abuse from an open top bus in Stamford Hill, shows very vividly that this bold and important Tottenham Hotspur initiative is timely and the use of the Y-Word in football and in society has had its day.”

Tackling anti-Semitism demands at a minimum the ability to make basic political distinctions. Initiatives such as the one by Spurs only serve to discredit the fight against this form of bigotry.

The attempt to stigmatise and presumably ultimately ban the use of the word “Yid” by Spurs fans is also an attack on free speech. Yet, as this site has consistently argued, tackling anti-Semitism means engaging in a free and open debate on this difficult subject.

Photo: "Is Jack a Spurs fan?" by lisibo.

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