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Nov 9, 2012

Lawyers want 'anti-Semitic' chants to stop

The Society of Black Lawyers hit out at Tottenham Hotspur and the Football Association after repeating its threat to go to the police over what it regards as anti-Semitic chanting at White Hart Lane.

Spurs fans sent an open message of defiance to the SBL on Thursday night when they chanted "We'll sing what we want" and "Yid Army" throughout the club's 3-1 home win over Maribor in the Europa League.

Despite being a club with a traditionally large Jewish following, Tottenham fans often refer to themselves as "Yids" or the "Yid Army" in chants during the club's matches.

Although Spurs claim otherwise, the SBL say the phrase is anti-Semitic and they have vowed to complain to the police under the Public Order Act if supporters continue to use the chant beyond the Nov. 20 deadline it has set.

The SBL had monitors at the north London ground Thursday who heard the chants, and Friday morning it reiterated its commitment to report any such action to the police should fans continue their actions.

"We are not going to let go on this," SBL chair Peter Herbert said. "After Nov. 20 there is a potential that people will get a criminal conviction. If they want to run that risk then fine. We are serious. We aren't in this for sensationalism. We think the vast majority of Tottenham fans are sensible and do not engage in anti-Semitism. It's a very small minority who obviously don't care about any offense. Their love of football is greater than their desire to deal with anti-Semitism."

The FA, who is understood to receive more complaints about away fans using the term "Yid" at White Hart Lane than home fans, responded to Herbert's criticism Friday.

"The FA acts on all reported incidents of discrimination and we continue to work with both Tottenham Hotspur and the Crown Prosecution Service on the matter of anti-Semitic chanting," an FA spokesman said. The FA takes all matters of discrimination with the utmost seriousness and encourages the reporting of any such incidents through the appropriate channels."

Tottenham refused to comment on the matter Friday. The London club sticks by the statement it released Wednesday, which read: "Our guiding principle in respect of the 'Y-word' is based on the point of law itself -- the distinguishing factor is the intent with which it is used ie if it is used with the deliberate intention to cause offence. This has been the basis of prosecutions of fans of other teams to date.

"Our fans adopted the chant as a defence mechanism in order to own the term and thereby deflect anti-Semitic abuse. They do not use the term to others to cause any offence, they use it as a chant amongst themselves."

Herbert believes the club has been misguided over the issue and claims fans can be prosecuted regardless of whether the songs are intended to cause offence.

"Under Section Five of the Public Order Act it doesn't matter what the intent is of the individual or the crowd, if the words cause harassment, alarm, or distress to anyone watching then that is sufficient," Herbert said. "If a crowd of men were walking down Tottenham High Road singing the Y-word causing offense they would be arrested. It doesn't make sense that they can make White Hart Lane a no-go area for law."

Herbert ridiculed Tottenham's statement and claimed the SBL has widespread support for its campaign from within the Jewish community.

"We have no doubt there will be complaints (to the police)," Herbert added. "If the Met Police say they are going to look at prosecutions then there is a good chance it will stop. Tottenham's statement is indefensible. I think if you went to the United States, Canada or South Africa and you made a statement like that you would face ridicule and condemnation.

"It is a very sad day for English football when clubs feel they have to defend a term of abuse."

Herbert also accused the FA of a lack of interest in the Tottenham matter.

"This is an appalling abdication of responsibility by the FA," he said. "It's a complete disgrace that they have stayed silent on this. There is an inertia from the FA over racism and anti-Semitism. You can't go and complain about racism and anti-Semitism in Serbia and then have it happening in your own backyard."

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