By Rabbi Danny Burkeman, The Community Synagogue, New York. Rabbi Danny tweets HERE.
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah as I stood in front of my community in Port Washington, New York, I shared my boyhood dream to have been a Liverpool footballer.
I gave an insight into the fantasies of a young boy growing up in north-west London in the 1980s. And I shared my hope that one day Liverpool (LFC) would be advertising for someone to fill the position of team rabbi (if you’re reading this, John Henry, I’m interested).
I was therefore excited to discover my beloved Liverpool had posted a Twitter message just for me (and all the other Jewish fans around the globe): “Liverpool FC would like to wish all our Jewish supporters around the world a happy new year. #RoshHashanah.”
I remember as a child being excited when the team on Blue Peter wished their Jewish viewers a happy new year, and as an adult I appreciate the messages from Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama.
Reading the Liverpool tweet was a moment where two of my worlds positively collided, and it made the start of my year that much sweeter.
My joy turned to disappointment when I read later that Liverpool Football Club had decided to remove the tweet as a result of anti-Semitic messages that had been posted in response to it.
As the club told The Guardian newspaper, “Due to a number of offensive comments that were attached to a tweet on the official LFC Twitter account, the tweet and comments have since been removed from.”
I didn’t see the anti-Semitic tweets, but as I have been active on social media it isn’t hard to imagine them and I am left to digest the abuse and Liverpool’s response.
To be honest, my first response was disappointment. I was saddened again that there are people out there who hate us so much they scour the internet looking for opportunities to post their hateful opinions. And I was frustrated that Liverpool had removed the tweet, giving what felt like a victory for the anti-Semites.
I am proud to support a club that posts a Rosh Hashanah tweet for Jewish supporters and a Ramadan Kareem tweet for Muslim ones.
Unfortunately, with racist anti-Semitic trolls out there, it appears it’s not possible for a football club to reach out to those Jewish supporters in a thoughtful way to mark a significant time of year.
I was also disappointed to read in the article that the incident had been passed to the police and investigations ‘could follow’.
If the abuse was bad enough that Liverpool felt the need to take down the tweet, and the Kick It Out campaign felt it worthy of alerting the police, then surely investigations ‘should’ or ‘will’ follow.
While the internet provides us with much that is positive, it unfortunately also provides a platform for people to post virtually unchecked whatever racism, abuse and anti-Semitism they see fit. And in protecting free speech, a social media site such as Twitter leaves its users’ hands tied, as there is no way to delete quickly comments which are attached to a tweet without deleting the original tweet (at least to the best of my knowledge).
The Twitter feed features centrally on Liverpool’s website, and without removing the tweet the anti-Semitic abuse would have remained attached to the club site as well.
Twitter’s functionality left its officials with their hands tied, and as can be seen they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.
I am sure the intention in deleting the tweet was not to give a victory to the anti-Semites but rather to protect people from having to see the vile comments that had become attached to it.
There are many places and contexts where we have unfortunately become experienced at dealing with anti-Semitism, and today it is becoming clearer that the Internet is the current front line.
As such, our combating of anti-Semitism needs to involve the reporting of online incidents, the lobbying for stricter legislation to criminalise this kind of behaviour, and the pressurising of social media providers to have in place systems for the rapid removal of abuse.
As I watched the beginning of the Merseyside derby, I was struck (as I always am) by the power of the Liverpool fans singing their anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone, in unison. For me it is one of the most powerful sights and sounds in the world of sport, with the words indicating what we as a Jewish community have to do in the face of rising anti-Semitism.
We have to walk through a storm, through the wind and the rain, but with our heads held high and hope in our hearts we can overcome this. And as a final word, on Sunday, Liverpool posted a further tweet: “LFC believes in the practice of religious freedom – we seek a world in which we can send good wishes to supporters without hateful responses.”
Hopefully by the time we come to Rosh Hashanah 5776, Liverpool will be able to wish us all a Shana Tova again without fear or concern over the response.