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Jewish organisations file complaint against Aalst Carnival float
Two Belgian Jewish organisation have filed a complaint with federal equal rights agency Unia as well as with the Aalst city council against what they describe as an anti-Semitic float at the Aalst carnival parade at the weekend.
The Forum of Jewish Organisations (FJO) and the Jewish Organisation Co-ordination Committee (CCOJB) were shocked by the float put together by the Aalst Vismooil’n carnival group. Under the title ‘Shabbat Year 2019’, the float featured extreme caricatures of Jewish men with long beards and giant noses, surrounded by money.
Dancers on the float wore costumes that further emphasised stereotypes of Jewish men. “They may not have had anti-Semitic intentions with this,” Hans Knoop of FJO told VRT News, “but it remains a totally inappropriate way to be funny. This kind of poking fun we cannot accept. Jewish people have a great sense of humour, but we can’t laugh at this. It is deeply offensive.”
The Aalst carnival is Unesco-protected heritage and prides itself on its no-holds barred send-up of culture and politics during its annual carnival. Anything goes, as it were.
‘Right out of Der Stürmer’
“The caricatures, taken right out of Der Stürmer,” said the FJO in a press statement, referring to the Nazi propaganda newspaper, “with a hooked nose and chests full of money are typical of 1939 Nazism. This has no place in a democratic country like Belgium in 2019, carnival or no carnival.”
The organisation said that it wanted to create “concrete agreements” with the city to prevent such a float from happening again.
The international press, from Jerusalem to Cleveland, picked up the story, which has now exploded on social media. “A parade float at the Aalst Carnival in Belgium featuring caricatures of Orthodox Jews atop money bags and rats,” wrote one Twitter user. “The world is an insane place.”
“Wicked people whose sick minds produce pure evil,” wrote another, “This is Europe 2019.” Another questioned how such a float could get past parade organisers and whether there were anti-discrimination laws in Belgium.
Black face, white hoods
The Vismooil’n told Het Laatste Nieuws that the theme of the float had to do with a ‘sabbatical year’, meaning they were trying to save money. “So we had the idea to use Jews on our float,” said a spokesperson. “We didn’t do this to make fun of their belief but because carnival is a feast of caricatures. We found it comical, all these pink Jewish people with chests where we were saving our money. People poke fun of other religions at carnival, too.”
The European Commission did not agree, telling a journalist at the briefing this morning that it had taken note of the controversy. “It is unthinkable that these images are parading around in European streets 70 years after the Holocaust,” said the press agent. “It’s now up to the national authorities to take action on the individual complaints, on the basis of applicable laws.”
Many sites also mention other Aalst carnival costumes this year, including the use of blackface and pointy white hoods and facemasks. The latter are religious in origin but closely resemble the Ku Klux Klan and were worn by a group supporting the Forza Ninove political list, made up of members of the far-right Vlaams Belang.
The mayor of Aalst, Christophe D’Haese (N-VA), told Het Laatste Nieuws that he did not want to see restrictions applied to the carnival parade. “That must be allowed at the Aalst Carnival,” he said. “It’s not for the mayor to ban this. The carnival group did not have bad intentions.”
Photo courtesy FJO