Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The BBC, Sport and History


As the London Olympics are due to start in a few days and the past couple of weeks have seen Israel involved in two controversial issues connected to this event, namely the refusal by the IOC to hold a one-minute’s silence in memory of the Israel athletes murdered in the Munich Games of 1972 and the BBC declining to name Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the list of competing nations on its website, I have decided to rehash this piece that I found stashed away on my computer and which I originally wrote about 12 years ago and have updated.


Late one night in 1993, just after the signing of the Oslo Accords, I switched on my little transistor and tuned into the BBC World Service. I used to do this most evenings in the pre-Internet times to keep in touch with the latest football news. Before the sports reports, there was always a detailed world news programme which I normally half-listened to while waiting for the important stuff to come on. Being quite insular, I usually only paid attention if the Middle East was being spoken about. This time, however, a small item caught my ear as it involved not only the rather volatile area of the world in which I live, but also sport.

Somewhere towards the end of the news headlines, it was announced that the newly formed Palestinian Authority had been accepted by the International Olympic Committee and would be allowed to participate in future Olympic Games. This fact aroused my interest as I realised that later on in the programme there would have to be a full report of this headline. “What on earth,” I wondered “could they find to elaborate on this?” After all, the Palestinians’ international sporting record had not been too auspicious.

I proceeded to listen earnestly to the rest of the news, most of which must have been about the various parts of Yugoslavia bombing each other to smithereens. When, eventually, the newscaster reached the item that I had been waiting for, what was broadcast to the millions of listeners worldwide made my blood boil until I realised what its true implication was and what must have taken place prior to the airing of the programme.

So, before I let you in on what the newsreader said, I would like to go behind the scenes to an editing room in Broadcasting House almost twenty years ago. Realising that he was going to have to put together a piece on rather empty news item, a perturbed editor found an over-eager cub reporter (think of Jimmy Olsen, Superman fans) and sent him off on a mission to rustle up some information about Palestine and sport. He went off and sat down by his computer and got into some database. He began cross-referencing Palestine and the Olympic Games, but to no avail. I assume that he must have come across a little tidbit dated 1972, but decided that informing the world that Palestine holds the Olympic record in the massacring event wasn’t really relevant. So our intrepid reporter began feeding in other key words until he eventually came up with something that put the smile back on the face of his stressed out boss.

Anyway, the newsreader, after repeating the information given in the headline at the start of the programme, then went on to announce that the last time that the Palestinian national football team had taken part in the qualifying rounds of the World Cup was in 1938, when it lost to Egypt.  Well, dear readers, was this another example of the rewriting of history by the notoriously anti-Semitic BBC. Nope, not all. This is an indisputable fact that is borne out in all the record books and databases. However, what these sources of information neglect to tell us was that the Palestinian footballers of the time all bore Hebrew, Hebraised or eastern-European surnames. In other words, they were, in the words of Monty Python, Jews, Yids, Kikes, Red-Sea Pedestrians who were living under British rule in Mandatory Palestine. In one fell swoop, the BBC had managed to negate all the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. There has never been a Palestinian state in the land of Israel and the first “Palestinians” were actually Jews. Of course this all isn’t really important, as most of those listening did not have a proper grasp of history and, as far as they knew, the Palestinians losing to Egypt in the year before the outbreak of the Second World War, were Arabs whose descendants were to battle the Israelis in order to restore what was rightfully theirs. As these were pre-email days, I didn’t get around to writing an irate letter to the BBC, signed “pissed-off, Jerusalem”, so I had to content myself with turning this into an amusing anecdote to be told when the opportunity raised its head. Still, in these days of chaos, it doesn’t do any harm to laugh at the ignorance and prejudice of the supposed civilised world – even when they are directed against us.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The "Y" Word

I haven't blogged in ages. No excuses. Anyway to get myself into the mood, I am posting here an article that I wrote for the Fighting Cock website (needless to say it's a Spurs thing) about the use of the word Yids by Spurs fans. This followed some comments made on the Fighting Cock podcast about it. It sparked off many positive reaction on the site actually. Enjoy


Well, firstly, I suppose that I should present the credentials that make me qualified to pass judgement on the subject of whether or not it is permissible for Spurs fans to use the word “Yid” in reference to themselves or Spurs players. I am Jewish, not only through birth, but through practise as well and, in addition, I have been a Spurs fan for over 40 years. (I am old enough to have lived through a Tottenham championship year; albeit I was only 3 months old when Danny Blanchflower was awarded the trophy.)  I left England over 30 years ago to live in Israel, yet Spurs have been the one constant in my life. I have always managed to keep up with the goings on at White Hart Lane. For years this wasn’t so easy but the onset of the Internet and of satellite TV has meant that I rarely miss a game during the season and I get together with other long-suffering ex-pat fans to watch almost every week.
I have brought up two sons to suffer alongside me and I am proud of the fact that despite the fact that the past decade and a half have been rather barren for the mighty THFC, they resisted the temptation to support other more successful teams as Israeli kids are wont to do and that my youngest son who is now almost 16 has even influenced some of his mates to follow the Tottenham. My proudest moment was when I was able to take them to see Spurs when they came to Israel to play Hapoel Tel Aviv in the UEFA Cup a few years back. (I also have 2 girls, but I couldn’t persuade them to like football.) My American-born wife has learnt to be patient with my obsession. As she has put it on a number of occasions, if supporting Spurs is my worst vice, then she has got herself a pretty good deal.
I recall that my first encounter with anti-Semitism on a personal level came when I was about 9 or 10 years old. As one does at that age, I was playing in a pick-up football game in the local park with kids whom I didn’t know. I have to admit that I loved playing the game but being a bit of a chubby kid at the time (my mum assured me it was “puppy fat”), what I lacked in footballing prowess, I more than made up for in clumsy enthusiasm. And eventually I hacked another player down in a move that would have made Terry “the Meathook” Naylor proud.
As the kid fell, he exclaimed “You Jew!” I must have been fairly naïve at the time, and anyway the word “Jew” had not been preceded by an adjective such as “bloody” or “effing”, so it did not strike me that he was insulting me. My response was to turn around pleasantly and say simply “Oh, how did you know?” I was quite astonished as there were no outward signs of my Mosaic ancestry. This seemed to take the kid by surprise. “Oh are you?” he said quite embarrassed, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” It was if he had called me a bastard and I had turned round and admitted to my parents’ having borne me out of wedlock. I thought little of it and carried on charging around the pitch trying to make as much of a nuisance of myself as possible, which was my main football strategy at the time.
It was only later that it dawned on me that he was using the word, “Jew” as an insult. I knew all about anti-Semitism; my mother had been through the Holocaust before finding refuge in England after the war and my father and his family had managed to leave Germany in 1933 after the Nazis came to power. However, this was the first time I had heard the word that I had been brought up to be proud of used in a pejorative sense. The kid I had fouled probably had no idea what it meant, and as at that time we did not live in a neighbourhood where there was a large Jewish community, chances are that I was the first Red-Sea Pedestrian that he had met in his life. The boy had most probably picked it up from the Alf Garnetts who were bringing him up.
The word “Yid” I would hear used as an insult against me several years later when I was about 14. I went to a large Jewish school which was then situated in Camden Town, quite a rough area at the time in which very few Jews lived. To make life hard for my friends and me, and easy for the local yobbos, our uniforms were bright blue with a luminous yellow badge whilst all the other schools in the neighbourhood wore black blazers. We were spotted from a mile off making our way down to the station in our attempt to make it to the safety of North-West London and every week there incidents in which pupils from my school were insulted or attacked.
I knew the word as the Yiddish for Jew. I had a good working knowledge of the language as my Rumanian born grandmother would speak to me in Yiddish although I would reply in English. I was old enough to realise instantly that I was being insulted, but again I was a bit puzzled as to what could be so derogatory about a word which described a member of the faith that I was quite prepared to admit adhering to.
Perhaps because I didn’t get much of a chance to go to games during the hooligan-ridden ‘70’s, I wasn’t aware of Spurs’ supposed Jewish connections. I knew lots of Jewish people that supported them, but then again, most of the people that I knew were Jewish and I assumed that they were Spurs fans because they came from North London, and anyway I knew as many fans of the Team Whose Name Must Never Be Uttered and even a couple of Chelsea supporters who were Jewish.
I had to rely not only on highlights on the “Big Match” and “Match of the Day” for my football fix, but on the weekly reports of my mate, Brian who was a regular at Spurs matches. In this way I lived vicariously the life of a proper Spurs fan as he would regale me at school on Monday mornings with blow-by-blow (often literally) accounts of the goings-on on the terraces which were far more entertaining than what was happening on the pitch at the time. These were Spurs’ wilderness years during which they went down to the second division after having flirted with relegation for a number of seasons. The truth is that I can’t remember any tales about Spurs fans being singled out because of the team’s supposed “Jewish connections”. Perhaps it got lost in the general wave of hooliganism that was rampant at the time. Even so, today this seems strange to me as Brian himself was Jewish.
I only became aware of the anti-Semitic jibes against Spurs fans in the early 1980’s, after I had already moved to Israel. English football has always been popular here and the reports of rival fans making hissing sounds and singing songs about Auschwitz aroused much interest in the Israeli media for obvious reasons. What also became apparent at the same time was the fact that instead of lashing out against the accusation of their being “Jewish”, Spurs fans had reacted quite unexpectedly by embracing it.

The term, “Yid”, so long used in a derogatory way, suddenly became the name used by Spurs fans to denote not only themselves but the Spurs players as well. There were more Israeli flags being waved at White Hart Lane than at games of the Israeli national side (the Jewish state had been considerate enough, on its achieving independence in 1948, to choose blue and white for the colours of its flag.) My chest would well up with pride whenever I was asked by Israelis which team I supported. “Ah, the Jewish team,” they would say when I told them. All of sudden, the two main components of my own identity, which for so long had been kept separate, had been fused together. I was Jewish ergo I was a Spurs fan (or was it the other way round?)
I wasn’t even bothered when I heard the word “Yiddo” used against me in Israel. It was in 1984 in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, where the national stadium is situated. England had come out to play a friendly against the Israeli national side. My mates and I had brought Israeli flags to cheer on the local team and we got into a mock terrace battle with a couple of half-pissed non-Jewish England fans before the game (it was the 80’s after all and we probably regarded it as mandatory and anyway we had also had our own fill of the Demon Drink as well.) Eventually, we settled down and began chatting to the two blokes who, it turned out were working as volunteers on a kibbutz. We were having a friendly conversation when suddenly one of them noticed my Spurs scarf which I was wearing. “Oy,” he said, “You’re a Yid,” and began singing a song about my being “a poor little Yiddo.”  I was a bit perplexed as it was fairly obvious that I was Jewish, yet it was only the sight of my scarf that had caused him to start singing. His mate looked a trifle embarrassed and nudged him to get him to stop. The guy suddenly realised what he was doing, stopped and apologised. I told him not to worry about it. It was apparent that the jibe was directed against me as I was a Tottenham fan which, as he supported a rival team, he was entitled to do, rather than because I was Jewish, something that would have been unacceptable.
In spite of all this, I can fully understand the objections of the English Jewish community to the use of the words, “Yid” and “Yiddo.” I wonder if I were still living in England, whether this would bother me as much. However, it must be pointed out that even if all Spurs fans were to cease using the names to describe themselves, it is impossible to imagine that rival fans would stop using them as terms of abuse. What Spurs supporters have done in effect is to take the sting out these words. How can they be used as anti-Semitic jibes when tens of thousands of Gentiles are employing them regularly as the supreme accolade used to describe not only a loyal fan, but also a favourite player who has proved himself to the crowd? If anything, Spurs fans should be commended for deflecting the derogatory meaning of the words.
And before anyone brings up the example of the nefarious “N-word”, I feel that there is no basis here for comparison as for African-Americans, this term symbolizes the worst periods of their history. Many names have been invented to denote Jews, some of which are merely corruptions of the word “Jew”, as the ineffable “N-word” is merely a corruption of the word, “Negro.” But I don’t think that one particular word can be singled out as the most offensive. In fact, I would hazard a guess that “Zhid” and “Jude”, respectively the Russian and German words for Jew, evoke many more bitter memories than the word “Yid” does.
David Baddiel’s efforts to eradicate the use of the “Y-word” (as he calls it) by Spurs fans are both laughable and hypocritical. Baddiel has made a whole career out of the fact that he is Jewish. I don’t think that I have seen one appearance of his in which he does not mention his ethnicity at least once. In addition, for years, he has perpetuated the myth that Spurs are a Jewish club. (Just check out this clip on his “Fantasy Football”show from the mid-90’s -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvf9gDExvng). More recently, he wrote and produced a mildly amusing comedy film called “The Infidel” in which he presents Jews in a stereotypical way (stemming from his own ignorance about Judaism.) The rather implausible plot involves a Muslim man who discovers he is Jewish. The point is that Baddiel makes the protagonist a Spurs fan, and the opening scene features the main character wearing a 1980’s Spurs shirt. Perhaps Baddiel was trying to suggest that even before the hero discovers his Jewish roots he was in possession of basic Jewish genetic traits, such as supporting Tottenham.     
 As long as someone as well-known as Baddiel and others continue to portray Spurs as a “Jewish” club, then the anti-Semitic insults hurled at its supporters will continue. The best thing to do in this case is precisely what Spurs fans have been doing for the past 30 years or so i.e. to turn the insult into a term of endearment. This renders harmless the shouts of “Yids!” by rival fans. Of course, it doesn’t deal with the more caustic chants referring to the Holocaust which emanate from the sick and pig-ignorant supporters who also sing songs about the tragedies at Munich and Hillsboro against Manchester United and Liverpool fans respectively.
Unfortunately, abusive chanting will always be part and parcel of football matches. One cannot expect every member of a crowd that can number between 30-50,000 to be on his or her best behaviour during a tense game and adhere strictly to the rules of political correctness. The only way to deal with it has to be to punish clubs whose fans are particularly abusive (this actually has been done in Israel where teams have had points deducted for racist chanting from their fans.) Spurs fans referring to themselves as “Yiddos” cannot be regarded in this category, even though it does make many members of the English Jewish community uncomfortable.      


 Well, firstly, I suppose that I should present the credentials that make me qualified to pass judgement on the subject of whether or not it is permissible for Spurs fans to use the word “Yid” in reference to themselves or Spurs players. I am Jewish, not only through birth, but through practise as well and, in addition, I have been a Spurs fan for over 40 years. (I am old enough to have lived through a Tottenham championship year; albeit I was only 3 months old when Danny Blanchflower was awarded the trophy.)  I left England over 30 years ago to live in Israel, yet Spurs have been the one constant in my life. I have always managed to keep up with the goings on at White Hart Lane. For years this wasn’t so easy but the onset of the Internet and of satellite TV has meant that I rarely miss a game during the season and I get together with other long-suffering ex-pat fans to watch almost every week.
I have brought up two sons to suffer alongside me and I am proud of the fact that despite the fact that the past decade and a half have been rather barren for the mighty THFC, they resisted the temptation to support other more successful teams as Israeli kids are wont to do and that my youngest son who is now almost 16 has even influenced some of his mates to follow the Tottenham. My proudest moment was when I was able to take them to see Spurs when they came to Israel to play Hapoel Tel Aviv in the UEFA Cup a few years back. (I also have 2 girls, but I couldn’t persuade them to like football.) My American-born wife has learnt to be patient with my obsession. As she has put it on a number of occasions, if supporting Spurs is my worst vice, then she has got herself a pretty good deal.
I recall that my first encounter with anti-Semitism on a personal level came when I was about 9 or 10 years old. As one does at that age, I was playing in a pick-up football game in the local park with kids whom I didn’t know. I have to admit that I loved playing the game but being a bit of a chubby kid at the time (my mum assured me it was “puppy fat”), what I lacked in footballing prowess, I more than made up for in clumsy enthusiasm. And eventually I hacked another player down in a move that would have made Terry “the Meathook” Naylor proud.
As the kid fell, he exclaimed “You Jew!” I must have been fairly naïve at the time, and anyway the word “Jew” had not been preceded by an adjective such as “bloody” or “effing”, so it did not strike me that he was insulting me. My response was to turn around pleasantly and say simply “Oh, how did you know?” I was quite astonished as there were no outward signs of my Mosaic ancestry. This seemed to take the kid by surprise. “Oh are you?” he said quite embarrassed, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” It was if he had called me a bastard and I had turned round and admitted to my parents’ having borne me out of wedlock. I thought little of it and carried on charging around the pitch trying to make as much of a nuisance of myself as possible, which was my main football strategy at the time.
It was only later that it dawned on me that he was using the word, “Jew” as an insult. I knew all about anti-Semitism; my mother had been through the Holocaust before finding refuge in England after the war and my father and his family had managed to leave Germany in 1933 after the Nazis came to power. However, this was the first time I had heard the word that I had been brought up to be proud of used in a pejorative sense. The kid I had fouled probably had no idea what it meant, and as at that time we did not live in a neighbourhood where there was a large Jewish community, chances are that I was the first Red-Sea Pedestrian that he had met in his life. The boy had most probably picked it up from the Alf Garnetts who were bringing him up.
The word “Yid” I would hear used as an insult against me several years later when I was about 14. I went to a large Jewish school which was then situated in Camden Town, quite a rough area at the time in which very few Jews lived. To make life hard for my friends and me, and easy for the local yobbos, our uniforms were bright blue with a luminous yellow badge whilst all the other schools in the neighbourhood wore black blazers. We were spotted from a mile off making our way down to the station in our attempt to make it to the safety of North-West London and every week there incidents in which pupils from my school were insulted or attacked.
I knew the word as the Yiddish for Jew. I had a good working knowledge of the language as my Rumanian born grandmother would speak to me in Yiddish although I would reply in English. I was old enough to realise instantly that I was being insulted, but again I was a bit puzzled as to what could be so derogatory about a word which described a member of the faith that I was quite prepared to admit adhering to.
Perhaps because I didn’t get much of a chance to go to games during the hooligan-ridden ‘70’s, I wasn’t aware of Spurs’ supposed Jewish connections. I knew lots of Jewish people that supported them, but then again, most of the people that I knew were Jewish and I assumed that they were Spurs fans because they came from North London, and anyway I knew as many fans of the Team Whose Name Must Never Be Uttered and even a couple of Chelsea supporters who were Jewish.
I had to rely not only on highlights on the “Big Match” and “Match of the Day” for my football fix, but on the weekly reports of my mate, Brian who was a regular at Spurs matches. In this way I lived vicariously the life of a proper Spurs fan as he would regale me at school on Monday mornings with blow-by-blow (often literally) accounts of the goings-on on the terraces which were far more entertaining than what was happening on the pitch at the time. These were Spurs’ wilderness years during which they went down to the second division after having flirted with relegation for a number of seasons. The truth is that I can’t remember any tales about Spurs fans being singled out because of the team’s supposed “Jewish connections”. Perhaps it got lost in the general wave of hooliganism that was rampant at the time. Even so, today this seems strange to me as Brian himself was Jewish.
I only became aware of the anti-Semitic jibes against Spurs fans in the early 1980’s, after I had already moved to Israel. English football has always been popular here and the reports of rival fans making hissing sounds and singing songs about Auschwitz aroused much interest in the Israeli media for obvious reasons. What also became apparent at the same time was the fact that instead of lashing out against the accusation of their being “Jewish”, Spurs fans had reacted quite unexpectedly by embracing it.

The term, “Yid”, so long used in a derogatory way, suddenly became the name used by Spurs fans to denote not only themselves but the Spurs players as well. There were more Israeli flags being waved at White Hart Lane than at games of the Israeli national side (the Jewish state had been considerate enough, on its achieving independence in 1948, to choose blue and white for the colours of its flag.) My chest would well up with pride whenever I was asked by Israelis which team I supported. “Ah, the Jewish team,” they would say when I told them. All of sudden, the two main components of my own identity, which for so long had been kept separate, had been fused together. I was Jewish ergo I was a Spurs fan (or was it the other way round?)
I wasn’t even bothered when I heard the word “Yiddo” used against me in Israel. It was in 1984 in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, where the national stadium is situated. England had come out to play a friendly against the Israeli national side. My mates and I had brought Israeli flags to cheer on the local team and we got into a mock terrace battle with a couple of half-pissed non-Jewish England fans before the game (it was the 80’s after all and we probably regarded it as mandatory and anyway we had also had our own fill of the Demon Drink as well.) Eventually, we settled down and began chatting to the two blokes who, it turned out were working as volunteers on a kibbutz. We were having a friendly conversation when suddenly one of them noticed my Spurs scarf which I was wearing. “Oy,” he said, “You’re a Yid,” and began singing a song about my being “a poor little Yiddo.”  I was a bit perplexed as it was fairly obvious that I was Jewish, yet it was only the sight of my scarf that had caused him to start singing. His mate looked a trifle embarrassed and nudged him to get him to stop. The guy suddenly realised what he was doing, stopped and apologised. I told him not to worry about it. It was apparent that the jibe was directed against me as I was a Tottenham fan which, as he supported a rival team, he was entitled to do, rather than because I was Jewish, something that would have been unacceptable.
In spite of all this, I can fully understand the objections of the English Jewish community to the use of the words, “Yid” and “Yiddo.” I wonder if I were still living in England, whether this would bother me as much. However, it must be pointed out that even if all Spurs fans were to cease using the names to describe themselves, it is impossible to imagine that rival fans would stop using them as terms of abuse. What Spurs supporters have done in effect is to take the sting out these words. How can they be used as anti-Semitic jibes when tens of thousands of Gentiles are employing them regularly as the supreme accolade used to describe not only a loyal fan, but also a favourite player who has proved himself to the crowd? If anything, Spurs fans should be commended for deflecting the derogatory meaning of the words.
And before anyone brings up the example of the nefarious “N-word”, I feel that there is no basis here for comparison as for African-Americans, this term symbolizes the worst periods of their history. Many names have been invented to denote Jews, some of which are merely corruptions of the word “Jew”, as the ineffable “N-word” is merely a corruption of the word, “Negro.” But I don’t think that one particular word can be singled out as the most offensive. In fact, I would hazard a guess that “Zhid” and “Jude”, respectively the Russian and German words for Jew, evoke many more bitter memories than the word “Yid” does.
David Baddiel’s efforts to eradicate the use of the “Y-word” (as he calls it) by Spurs fans are both laughable and hypocritical. Baddiel has made a whole career out of the fact that he is Jewish. I don’t think that I have seen one appearance of his in which he does not mention his ethnicity at least once. In addition, for years, he has perpetuated the myth that Spurs are a Jewish club. (Just check out this clip on his “Fantasy Football” show from the mid-90’s -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvf9gDExvng). More recently, he wrote and produced a mildly amusing comedy film called “The Infidel” in which he presents Jews in a stereotypical way (stemming from his own ignorance about Judaism.) The rather implausible plot involves a Muslim man who discovers he is Jewish. The point is that Baddiel makes the protagonist a Spurs fan, and the opening scene features the main character wearing a 1980’s Spurs shirt. Perhaps Baddiel was trying to suggest that even before the hero discovers his Jewish roots he was in possession of basic Jewish genetic traits, such as supporting Tottenham.     
 As long as someone as well-known as Baddiel and others continue to portray Spurs as a “Jewish” club, then the anti-Semitic insults hurled at its supporters will continue. The best thing to do in this case is precisely what Spurs fans have been doing for the past 30 years or so i.e. to turn the insult into a term of endearment. This renders harmless the shouts of “Yids!” by rival fans. Of course, it doesn’t deal with the more caustic chants referring to the Holocaust which emanate from the sick and pig-ignorant supporters who also sing songs about the tragedies at Munich and Hillsboro against Manchester United and Liverpool fans respectively.
Unfortunately, abusive chanting will always be part and parcel of football matches. One cannot expect every member of a crowd that can number between 30-50,000 to be on his or her best behaviour during a tense game and adhere strictly to the rules of political correctness. The only way to deal with it has to be to punish clubs whose fans are particularly abusive (this actually has been done in Israel where teams have had points deducted for racist chanting from their fans.) Spurs fans referring to themselves as “Yiddos” cannot be regarded in this category, even though it does make many members of the English Jewish community uncomfortable.