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“Yid Army! Yid Army! Yid Army!” It’s become a war cry for Tottenham fans over time, rather oddly: Spurs have had a traditionally significant support in North London’s Jewish community, but it has become an identity embraced by fans regardless of their actual Jewish heritage. And like at Ajax, the chants have only mushroomed in response to opposition taunts against Jews. There has, at times, been some very unpleasant hissing at Spurs supporters as a consequence.
A strange twist in this tale emerged today: three Arsenal fans are sueing their own club over racist chanting at the Emirates Stadium involving the words “Yids” or “Yiddos”, used against Tottenham fans.
In a letter sent to the Arsenal chairman, the fans – a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian – claim that the use of the anti-Semitic words “Yids” or “Yiddos” in reference to players and fans from Tottenham Hotspur amounts to a breach of Race Relations Act.
Their solicitor, Lawrence Davies, a leading human rights lawyer at the London law firm Equal Justice, has asked the club to take immediate action to stamp out all racist chanting at the club.
Mr Davies’s letter, sent this week to Peter Hill-Wood, makes it clear that the season-ticket holders can sue the club for breach of contract as Arsenal has a written policy of taking firm action against racist behaviour in the stadium.
Arsenal fans argue that the use of the words “Yids” and “Yiddos” in reference to their north London rivals is not racist but simply directed at the club’s Jewish history and point out that Tottenham fans even refer to themselves as the “Yid Army”. But Mr Davies says this does not stop the language from being offensive and anti-Semitic.
Mr Davies says in his letter: “The test in law is whether the language concerned causes offence to the person concerned. Our five clients are all Arsenal supporters and three are season-ticket holders. The season-ticket holders include a Jewish member and a Muslim member. They have all felt offended.”
He claims that by taking no action, the club would appear to be in breach of the Race Relations Act 1976 in the provision of a service or permitting harassment to occur without challenge.
His letter adds: “The season-ticket holders have a contractual relationship with the club. The contract states that fans exhibiting racist behaviour will have their contracts terminated and will be ejected form a particular match. None of the ‘Yid’ chanters have been challenged.”
Other Arsenal fans are bemused by this — at the popular Arseblog, there’s the view this is a spurious legal action.
I think everyone would agree that any kind of racist chanting needs to be cut out but this seems just bizarre to me. From what I can see Arsenal have been tremendously pro-active when it comes to this sort of thing, certainly more than other clubs who let their fans sing all kinds of songs. And to bring ‘human rights’ into the equation smacks of attention seeking to me. Let me clarify, any kind of racist chanting is absolutely wrong, but I’m not quite sure what this legal action against the club, not the fans who they can surely identify, will do.
Surely, though, the legal action is pointing out that the club are failing to challenge fans engaged in what the letter to Hill-Wood calls ‘Yid’ chants. Supporter-led initiatives against racism in British football have been a huge boon to the game in the past two decades: whilst there will always be racist individuals, collective racist chanting has been largely (if not completely) eradicated, and individuals trying to engage in it should be ejected.
The question, instead, seems to hinge on whether or not chants involving the word “Yid” are racist in this context. The curious situation is that the majority of the people (but, not all) being targeted by the chants — the Spurs fans — are patently not actually Jewish, and they themselves have a certain culpability in this whole affair due to their vociferous “Yid Army” chants in the first place. That doesn’t make any anti-Semitic response right, of course, but it’s all so unnecessary anyway.
My own view, as a fan of Tottenham and someone with significant Jewish heritage from London, is that all of the chanting about “Yids” — from whichever side of the barricades — is quite spurious in itself and doesn’t belong at the football. It only leads to what is at best unpleasantness; as an example, look at the comments left at Arseblogger about this today.
In Britain, this action will also be seen in the context of the ongoing debate over political correctness, and there will be many like Arseblogger who see this as making a mountain out of a molehill. What do you think? Is this malignant anti-Semitism, or just benign rivalry?