Nicolas Anelka’s main defence for his quenelle gesture is that there was no intent to offend. It was not meant as antisemitic and, therefore, he says, he did nothing wrong. A similar defence was run by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez over his negrito comment, arguing unsuccessfully that this was everyday, non-offensive parlance in his native Uruguay.
Most of the readership of this paper (and many non-Jews) will pour scorn on this “no intent” defence. Many will seek punishment for Anelka for carrying out an act he knew or ought to have known would offend an entire religious group.
However, I wonder how many people who hold this view have used that same lack-of-intent defence in another hot topic among football-supporting Jewry — the Y-word debate? Proponents of use of the “Yid” moniker by both Jewish and non-Jewish Spurs fans argue that the context of reclaiming the word “as a show of resistance” and lack of intent to offend are reasons why their use of the word should be allowed to continue.
Those against its use respond by saying that “Yid” is inherently offensive, more or less irrespective of context.
There would no doubt be rightful condemnation from the black community if Arsenal fans made up an affectionate chant towards one of its own black players which contained the N-word. Such condemnation would be justified, irrespective of the lack of any intention to offend.
Harassment can be either a criminal or civil matter. In civil (mainly employment) claims, so long as the words/action have the effect of offending the recipient, and that reaction was not unreasonable, a lack of intent is no defence. Context is only relevant to assess intent or the reasonableness of the reaction. For criminal matters, such as potential prosecutions for using the Y-word, context is of greater importance as intention is generally needed for a prosecution — that is why I see no use in arresting Spurs fans for using the word.
However, a point often overlooked is that Spurs fans’ use of the Y-word allows opposing fans to hurl the word back at them, including those doing so in a genuinely antisemitic way. I recently read the Twitter profile of a fellow Arsenal fan whose username was “Yid Hater”. A scroll down his timeline revealed a “joke” he had made about Spurs fans being taken to the gas chambers. You can be sure that when this individual uses “Yid” in a football stadium, it is almost certainly with antisemitic intent.
Because of Spurs’ Yid moniker, nothing can be done to such fans. Any of them accused of antisemitism could wheel out the (sometimes valid) defence of lack of intent, context and ignorance — the same defence Spurs fans rely on. “I didn’t know it offended Jews, M’lud — I just call them what they call themselves”.
So the word lives on and the hatred that bubbles at times above and at times beneath the surface of the football terraces lives to see another day.
Spurs fans horrified by Anelka’s action and who decry on-pitch displays of antisemitism should take an equally serious approach to antisemitism in the stands. To do otherwise allows antisemitic opposition supporters to hide behind the effective immunity handed to them by Spurs fans.
Let us be consistent in our views as a community, in respect of both the quenelle and use of the Y-word, that actions that either offend Jews or give others the means to denigrate Jews should not be tolerated, regardless of the motives behind their use.