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A Public Service

How often it happens that hidden truths are exposed by stupid people: footballers and football managers – many of whom come across as so mentally impaired as to be eligible for brain transplants on the National Health Service – have been lining up to prove the point. 

The exposure in question – which may be no such thing to a certain segment of the population – is that anti-Semitism is alive and well even in this diverse, colour-blind, multi-ethnic, rainbow coalition that we call society.  It certainly seems to be flourishing in our national sport.  

Mario Balotelli, a black player with Manchester City, has just tweeted a little parable that contains the words “Jumps like a black man and grabs coins like a Jew”.  For the first part of the sentence, Balotelli’s African complexion absolves him of a charge of racism, I suppose, but in the second part he may be accused of promoting an ethnic stereotype, one that may be traced to medieval times but still thrives today. 

To be fair, he may have been doing neither consciously.  Balotelli claimed, when taxed on the matter, that he was actually trying to be satirical, pointing out for good measure that his mother is Jewish.  Well, Mario, let me ask you this: does your mother grab coins like a Jew?   

Such accidents, if you’re superstitious, tend to happen in threes.  Sure enough, Balotelli’s little indiscretion complemented two others by his peers from the brain-dead world of muddied oafs.  Just last month, Dave Whelan, the owner of Wigan Football Club, made disparaging remarks about the Chinese and the Jews, the latter to the effect that they are partial to money.  He is now under investigation by the Football Association – which to paraphrase Wilde, may be described as the incredible in pursuit of the inedible. 

Whelan’s remarks, ironically, were made at a press conference to announce his hiring as team manager one Marky Mackay, who had been fired by his previous club, Cardiff City (owned by an Asian gentleman, presumably a wily Oriental) for sending racially offensive tweets.  One of them had offered the profound and ancient pearl of wisdom that “Jewish people chase money more than anyone else”.

My wife and I have discussed in the recent past whether anti-Semitism is dead, or merely hibernating and waiting to emerge, vampire-like, from its coffin.  In this country, I have argued, it is at least moribund.  As a Jew, though, she understandably leans to the other prospect.  And I suppose that, if my race had suffered a century of persecution, and six million deaths or more attributed to blind prejudice in my lifetime, I might well think that way too.

As much as I hate to admit it, our friends in the football fraternity may be performing a valuable, albeit unwitting, public service by reminding us – the ‘us’ meaning rather complacent and perhaps unworldly people like me – that ancient and awful instincts are still imbedded deep in the human psyche, just waiting to be hauled to the surface in the service of the mob.

Yes, I know that we are all guilty from time to time of reinforcing ethnic stereotypes, and not always based on skin colour.  The Scots, as is well known, are stingy (the Jews of the Celtic world?).  The Welsh are sly and given to thievery.  The Irish, of course, are bovine and violent.  The English, being a mongrel confection of tribes, fail to qualify for any distinguishing pejoratives – although many would settle for arrogant, snobbish and perfidious.

What the residents of the British Isles call each other in banter and what they choose to think of Jews, or Africans, or blacks in jest is no different – except for one thing: none of the people of these islands, for all their squabbles and occasional bloody skirmishes, has suffered persecution or bondage on an organised, officially sanctioned and global scale.   

In short, Balotelli and Whelan and Mackay and the rest are to be commended.  They remind us of what we are in danger of forgetting: the foul beast that lurks within the dark recesses of our collective soul.       

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