Jewish organisations file complaint against Aalst Carnival

Summary

Two Belgian Jewish organisations were shocked at the caricatures of Jews on a float in the annual Aalst Carnival parade, in a story that has now exploded on social media around the world

‘Deeply offensive’

Two local 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 ‘Sabbatical Year 2019’, the float featured caricatures of Jewish men with long beards and giant noses, surrounded by bags of 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.”

‘Not making fun of belief’

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. Mayor 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.”

“The caricatures, taken right out of Der Stürmer,” said the FJO in a press statement, “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.

It is unthinkable that these images are parading around in European streets 70 years after the Holocaust

- European Commission press agent

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 has weighed in, 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 news 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.