Organisers of controversial Belgian parade which was slammed for antisemitic floats provokes further anger with new images appearing to mock Jewish caricatures printed on ribbons intended for next year’s event
by James Wood
Organisers of a controversial Belgian parade slammed for antisemitism earlier this year have now printed ribbons mocking Jews ahead of next year’s event.
The Aalst Carnival drew global condemnation in March for its use of a carnival float featuring ‘caricatures of Jewish people’ sitting on piles of money.
The float, part of a carnival in Aalst, 20 miles west of Brussels, featured two giant puppets with side-locks and exaggerated crooked noses wearing streimels, a fur hat favoured by some orthodox Jews.
But carnival organisers defended its caricatures saying it did not have malicious intent. ‘You can have a laugh with other religions too,’ a group member said.
Ribbons for next year’s event however, have already damaged their cause. They appear to feature mocking caricatures of Jews and are meant to be worn at the event.
One of the ribbons shows a red-headed Orthodox Jew with golden teeth and includes the caption: ‘UNESCO, what a joke’.
The educational, scientific and cultural organisation had been among those criticising the carnival earlier this year.
‘The satirical spirit of the Aalst Carnival and freedom of expression cannot serve as a screen for such manifestations of hatred,’ said Ernesto Ottone R., Assistant UNESCO Director-General for Culture.
‘These indecent caricatures go against the values of respect and dignity embodied by UNESCO and are counter to the principles that underpin the intangible heritage of humanity, he added.
The designer of the 2020 caricatures told Het Laatste Nieuws daily that they are targeting UNESCO criticism of last year’s display and not Jews.
He said: ‘We don’t really laugh directly at Jews either. We mainly focus on UNESCO, it is not against Jews.’
Other posters show Jewish caricatures with hooked noses, with one including a man playing a golden violin.
Dr. Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress, is among those criticising the carnival and its organisers.
He said: ‘With the latest grotesque and indefensible display of antisemitism, the Aalst Carnival has showed once more that it is not worthy of the label of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This cannot be dismissed as just poor taste.
‘Carnival organisers have yet again chosen to use antisemitic caricatures that are indistinguishable from imagery used by the Nazis’.
‘UNESCO should require no further evidence to remove the Aalst Carnival from its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity immediately’.
‘Cultural practices, which denigrate, discriminate and promote hatred can never be considered Cultural Heritage.’
At the carnival this year, caricatures on a float included one giant puppet smoking a cigar and appeared to have a white rat on his shoulder.
Both were surrounded by coins and bags of money.
City mayor Christoph D’Haese defended the float, which has been slammed as ‘Nazi style’ by Jewish groups.
The float was paraded as part of an annual carnival that also featured men in KKK-like robes.
It was like something out of Nazi Germany’s Der Sturmer newspaper, Belgium’s Forum of Jewish Organisations said.
‘The caricatures, like those of Der Sturmer, of Jews with a crooked nose and suitcases, are typical of the Nazism of 1939,’ a spokesperson said.
‘In a democratic country like Belgium this has no place in 2019, carnival or not’.
‘The Jewish community naturally accepts humour, this is very important in a society, but there are limits that can not be exceeded’.
‘We have already undergone the effects of the caricatures of Der Sturmer in World War Two.’ FJO secretary general Laure Lachman added: ‘Such a display hasn’t really been seen anywhere else [in modern times].’
The Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium called on carnival chiefs to denounce the float.
‘At best it is a lack of discernment, especially given the rising context of antisemitism in our country and in the world,’ said a spokesperson.
‘At worst, it is the reproduction of antisemitic caricatures worthy of the Nazi era.
‘We will contact the organizers and the competent authorities to join our denunciation of these acts for the coming years.’
The float was created by the Vismooil’n group, which regularly participates in the Aalst carnival.
They told a Belgian blogger last month that this year’s float was addressing the impact of rising prices.
Belgian outlet, Het Laatste Nieuws, said the group had sought police protection after receiving death threats over the float.
Group members told the oulet: ‘We came up with the idea to put Jews on our float. Not to make the faith ridiculous – carnival is simply a festival of caricature.
‘We found it comical to have pink Jews in the procession with a safe to keep the money we saved. You can have a laugh with other religions too.’
Mayor D’Haese told Het Laatste Nieuws that ‘it’s not up to the mayor to forbid’ such displays, and that ‘the carnival participants had no sinister intentions.’