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David Cameron branded 'ludicrous' over 'Yid' debate

September 18, 2013 -- Updated 1506 GMT (2306 HKT)
British Prime Minister David Cameron has weighed into the debate surrounding the use of the word 'yid'.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has weighed into the debate surrounding the use of the word 'yid'.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • British Prime Minister David Cameron backs Tottenham fans' right to use the word 'Yid'
  • Section of Spurs fans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, refer to themselves as the "Yid army" and Spurs players as "Yiddos".
  • Football Association has threatened to prosecute fans for using the term at matches

(CNN) -- Over the years Tottenham Hotspur's supporters have suffered anti-Semitic abuse and until recently visiting supporters would hiss, in an effort to mimic the sound of the gas chambers that sent six million Jews to their deaths during the Holocaust.

So just how offensive is the use of the word "Yid" at football matches?

British Prime Minister David Cameron has been told that his view on Spurs fans being able to use the "Yid" word at football matches is "ludicrous" by an anti-racism group.

Last week, the English Football Association told fans they could face prosecution if they used the word, a term which at different times throughout history has been used by Jews and also to abuse them.

A north London-based club, Spurs are known for having a large number of Jewish supporters, with a section of Spurs fans having attempted to reclaim the "Y word" by referring to themselves as the "Yid Army" and chanting it at matches.

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Read: English Football Association issues 'yid' warning

"There's a difference between Spurs fans self-describing themselves as Yids and someone calling someone a Yid as an insult," Cameron told the UK-based Jewish Chronicle newspaper.

"You have to be motivated by hate. Hate speech should be prosecuted -- but only when it's motivated by hate."

But Cameron's views have been dismissed as 'ludicrous' by Race for Sport, a group which prides itself on "promoting fairness, justice and equality within all sports."

David Neita, a spokesperson for the group and a member of the Society of Black Lawyers, says the attempt by Tottenham fans to suggest they have reclaimed the word "is an insult to anybody's intelligence."

Read: Football grapples with anti-Semitism storm

He added: "Tottenham fans can be excused for attempting to deflect the abuse they received as neither the football club nor the FA previously took any action against the anti-Semitism voiced by other London clubs.

"Once anti-Semitism is being highlighted and prosecuted that is not longer a defense, if it ever was. Tottenham fans have neither the right nor the moral authority to do so."

Cameron has also come in for criticism from Peter Herbert, a leading lawyer and chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, who says the Prime Minister's comments "actually condone anti-Semitism or racism."

"Football is a part of society and not separate from it, so the Prime Minister has to really think what he is saying because he legitimizes anti-Semitism and that is a sad thing for any parliamentarian to do," Herbert told Sky Sports.

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"You cannot have people breaking the criminal law on Saturday afternoon and saying it is OK because we have a badge of honor."

British comedian David Baddiel, a leading campaigner against racial hatred towards the Jewish community, also believes the word should not be used by Tottenham fans.

Baddiel, a Jewish Chelsea supporter, attacked Cameron's position on the matter in his blog on the Guardian newspaper's website.

"The fact is that whatever its origins, their continuing use of the Y-word legitimizes and sustains the racist abuse aimed at Spurs by other fans," he writes.

"It's a call and response dynamic, like many at football matches."

Only in a small boxed off section in the Daily Mirror does Cameron receive any real support.

Writing in the tabloid, Darren Alexander, joint chairman of the Spurs Supporters' Trust, hailed Cameron as "the first person to speak with any common sense on this matter."

Alexander added: "It is nice to see somebody who understands that word can have two meanings to two different sets of people."

But Cameron is not alone in receiving criticism with the FA also coming in for blame with several commentators claiming the organization is going after the wrong people.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer argues more should be done to punish those club's whose fans persist in anti-Semitic chanting, rather than Tottenham fans who he believes do not use the term in an offensive manner.

"How difficult is it to understand that when a team with a wide Jewish fan base and prominent Jewish businesspeople among its executives proudly call themselves 'Yids', there is nothing anti-Semitic about it," he asks.

"It would be even complimentary to Jews if it was a half decent club. But when supporters of rival Chelsea or Arsenal sing the "the Yids are going to Auschwitz," accompanied by the hissing sounds of gas, that is rank racism."

David Aaronovitch, a columnist for The Times also agrees that the FA' s position on the issue is skewed.

"The problem with the Y-word is not Spurs fans' use of it, but other clubs' supporters' racism," he told the newspaper.

"It seems bizarre to me that the focus of the action by the FA should be the people who are not the problem."

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