The “yid” debate: When is an offensive word not offensive?

Index Chair and Times columnist David Aaronovitch, and writer and broadcaster David Baddiel yesterday went head to head over the Football Association’s recent ban on the word “yid”.

The FA last week stated that “yid”, a derogatory term against Jewish people, is considered offensive and that fans using it could face criminal prosecution. The contentious nature of the new regulation stems from the fact that it seems to be largely aimed at fans of Tottenham Hotspur. The club is based in an area of north-London with a large Jewish population, and many supporters use the word as a self-identifier. Fans of other clubs, however, have been known the use the word in antisemitic chants.

The debate was reignited yesterday, when David Cameron weighed in. “There’s a difference between Spurs fans self describing themselves as yids and someone calling someone a yid as an insult,” he told the Jewish Chronicle. “You have to be motivated by hate. Hate speech should be prosecuted – but only when it’s motivated by hate.”

Speaking on Radio 4’s World Tonight, Baddiel, who has campaigned to kick the word out of football, argued that it is a race hate word and should be treated as such. “It’s not just about Tottenham. That particular word is said all over London by Chelsea fans, by Arsenal fans, by Millwall fans, by West Ham fans, with menaces, with associated antisemitic abuse.”

Aaronovitch argued that the problem is people using the word in a negative way , and that is what should be tackled. “[It is offensive] If used by someone as an insult against a Jewish person, yes. If used by a spurs fan as a self identifier, no.”

Hear the whole debate here.