As part of a community that has been beset by violence from Pittsburgh to Paris and Los Angeles to Copenhagen, it is hard not to be fearful of the extremism that has infected the public dialogue. British Jews have come to accept the need for guards on school gates, surveillance cameras at places of worship and the need, particularly at this time of the year, to question strangers wanting to join us in prayer.
But there is a profound ignorance of Judaism. Many people using antisemitic tropes don’t even realise they are doing so. In a recent casual after-work conversation in a pub, my son, Gabriel, was questioned about which football team he supported, to which he replied Chelsea.
The response from the other party was: “At least you’re not a Yid.” Which, of course, he is. My son could have challenged the use of the world Yid but let it go assuming the questioner was referring to Spurs (where supporters insist on self-identifying themselves as Yids). He also wanting to avoid a machloket (dispute).
In another recent incident at Stamford Bridge, a friend, who happens to be one of the leading lights in Kick it Out, the movement to halt racism at football grounds, watched in horror as a hooligan abused a father and son wearing kippot. “You are at the wrong ground,” the hooligan yelled. Another reference to Spurs. On this occasion, the abuser had launched his assault in sight of the wrong person. The witness reported it to the stewards, found the abuser’s seat number and made a statement to police.
Both these incidents have the same source. Tottenham has the shiniest, most state of the art stadium in the Premier League, but its Jewish owner tycoon Joe Lewis and its top executive Daniel Levy, have never addressed fully the harm that comes from the Yid identity. It creates tension at every stadium Spurs play. Jews never mind parodying themselves, but when others do it it becomes deeply unattractive.
The paradox of these incidents is that no club or owners have done more in recent times to take on racism generally and antisemitism head-on than Chelsea. Early this year, it launched a partnership with the World Jewish Congress as part of its ‘Say No to Antisemitism’ campaign. It posted a video to its social media platforms featuring the stars of its team holding ‘We Remember’ signs and advocating the importance of Holocaust memory in fighting racism.
In April, Chelsea, in partnership with Jewish News, held a gala dinner at Stamford Bridge to raise funds for the Imperial War Museum’s new Holocaust Galleries in London. Hosted by comedian David Baddiel and entitled Light From The Dark, the dinner was attended by 350 guests, including Lord Coe, former chairman of the British Olympic Association, Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck and Shoah survivors. During the event, one of the rabbis even organised a minyan at Stamford Bridge allowing me to recite Kaddish. In spite of moving to Israel, owner Roman Abramovich last year donated £30.5 million to the rehabilitation of the IWM’s Holocaust memorial galleries.
The club’s programmes openly campaign against racism. In the recent match against Liverpool, a full page advertisement declares ‘Support Chelsea, Support Equality’. It offers precise instructions on how supporters should report abusive behaviour.
One fears much of this good and intensive work passes the average fan by. Incidents involving Chelsea supporters proliferate, but the club’s owner and management persist and deserve credit for taking on really difficult issues of racism and antisemitism. If the same activist approach were taken throughout the Premier League, then the stains of antisemitism and racism – which still infects the terraces – could be dialled down, if not eliminated.