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Jewish community again appalled at Aalst Carnival parodies
Jewish organisations in Belgium have sharply criticised the Aalst Carnival for continuing to include extreme stereotypes of Jewish men in its parade, which took place on Sunday afternoon.
Flanders’s biggest carnival parade, known for its political caricatures and send-up of current events, became a source of international controversy last year for a float depicting broad caricatures of Jewish men. The huge, hooked noses and hoarding of money were seen as emblematic of Nazi propaganda in the lead-up to the Holocaust.
Unesco even removed the carnival from its list of intangible world heritage, saying that the organisation had to “draw the line” when it came to “racism, antisemitism and xenophobia”.
Organisers of the parade emphasised that the imagery was part of the event’s trademark satire and mocking of every conceivable person or group. It’s broad comedy and no-holds-barred approach, say carnival organisers, is based on the historical underpinning of carnival celebrations, where the world turns upside down, and the common people have a day to say and do what they want.
Carnival organisers and politicians emphasise that there is no intended racism or anti-Semitism in the depictions – only being able to laugh at yourself and others. “We are the last bastion of free speech,” city councillor Michel Van Brempt (independent) told De Standaard last week. “If Aalst falls, it’s finished.”
This year was no different, with the controversy itself becoming a theme for many groups taking part in the parade. Aalst Carnival was “shameful and a waste of an opportunity,” according to Joël Rubinfeld of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, who attended the parade. “I saw curved noses and the Wailing Wall presented as if it were built with gold bars, accompanied by a parody of The Beatles’s ‘Hey Jude’. It is immoral and anti-Semitic. It is a scandal that this country allows this to take place in the name of free speech.”
Daniel Schwammenthal of the Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute, part of the influential American Jewish Committee, has requested that the EU trigger article 7, which suspends certain rights in a member state. “Belgian authorities did nothing to prevent the outright anti-Semitic costumes, which clearly violate the EU’s founding values, built on the lessons of the Holocaust and World War II,” he said.
Acting prime minister Sophie Wilmés (MR) also spoke out against the parade. “It’s not the first time that these practices have been criticised for their parodies of the Jewish community,” she said in a statement. “While Aalst Carnival is much more than that, these examples clearly detract from our values and our country’s reputation.”
The mayor of Aalst, Christoph D’Haese (N-VA), strongly defends the Carnival activities and is perplexed by all of the concern for an event that he says welcomes everyone. “I have called on the people – and I will continue to do so – to not insult each other just to insult each other,” he told VRT. “And I have the impression that the vast majority have understood very well what that means.”
D’Haese admitted that “a few bad apples” could be found among the parade’s 5,000 participants. “But I’m not personally responsible for them. I think we have done a very worthy job here overall.”
Photo: James Arthur Gekiere/BELGA