The Mayor of the Belgian city of Aalst, where the annual carnival parade on Sunday is expected to again display antisemitic floats, has ‘’categorically’’ rejected an Israeli call to ban the carnival.
On Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said: ‘’Belgium as a Western Democracy should be ashamed to allow such a vitriolic antisemitic display. I call upon the authorities there to condemn and ban this hateful parade in Aalst.’’
The city Mayor, Christophe D’Haese, reacted by rejecting the call and declared, according to the Belgian news agency Belga: ‘’He does not seem to understand the foundations of a free society. It is not for a Foreign Minister to decide what should or should not be allowed in Aalst.I will decide for myself.”
He repeated that Aalst carnival ‘’is not an anti-Semitic parade.’’ ‘’There is no room for racism but there is room for mockery and humor.” The call to ban the Aalst carnival is therefore “disproportionate”, he said, opposing any ‘’censorship.’’
The annual carnival is expected to display even more antisemitic elements than in previous years. Last year, at the same carnival, a float depicted Orthodox Jews with imagery associated with antisemitic stereotypes. The float featured two giant puppets of Orthodox Jews with hooked noses and rats sitting on money bags. The display shocked the Jewish community as they were reminiscent of Nazi period propaganda.
Aalst’s organizers this year have reportedly also sold hundreds of “rabbi kits” for carnival revelers to dress up as hassids, which include oversize noses, payot and black hats.
Israel’s Ambassador to Belgium Emmanuel Nahshon, who has been outspoken against the parade, told The Jerusalem Post that “it is a great pity that such an antisemitic carnival is allowed. Aalst is the only city in Europe where such a carnival is allowed.”
‘If the parade goes as planned, it will be a moral blot on Belgium,” he added.
“The fight against antisemitism is also an Israeli fight. Israel has to be very clear on the issue,” the ambassador said.
The Belgian federal government has so far not reacted to the uproar. Aalst is located in te Flemish region of Belgium. The head of the Flemish regional government, Jan Jambon, said during a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp last January that the revelers of the Aalst carnival should not have displayed Jewish caricatures, given the experience of the Jewish population. And Bart De Wever, chairman of the New Flemish Alliance Party (N-VA), the largest political party in the Flemish region, had rebuffed the Aalst Mayor or – who is from the same party- emphasizing his understanding of the sensitivities of the Jewish community. “I understand very well that some images, whatever the intention with which they are presented, shock people’s sensitivities. It shows a lack of empathy. It’s disrespectful,’’ he said earlier this year.
According to Flemish daily newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, more than 800 extra police officers will be deployed on the streets of Aalst this weekend to ensure that the carnival ‘’runs without incident.’’
Federal police agents as well as officers from nearby regions were being drafted into Aalst ahead of the four-day carnival, which begins on Sunday, the paper reported.
Five members of the European Parliament who sit on the Board of the parliament’s Working Group on Antisemitism, revealed that the city of Aalst has been flooded with antisemitic flyers in recent days.
“Flyers depicting similar imagery as from last year’s parade, portraying Jews as puppet masters that control global institutions, are currently circulating throughout the town,” they wrote in an open letter.
“Thus, we expect this year’s edition to only escalate the hateful messages from last year,” they added.
An annual event rooted in medieval times, the Aalst Carnival was recognized in 2010 by UNESCO — the UN’s cultural and educational agency — as belonging to the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” Last year, this status was removed over what UNESCO condemned as a “recurring repetition of racist and antisemitic representations.”
The European Commission last year also condemned the antisemitic display at the carnival. The former Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas – who is now Vice-President of the European Commission and in this position in charge of the fight against antisemitism- declared at the time: “It should be self-evident that a parade in the streets of Europe with such representations should be absolutely inconceivable seventy-four years after the Shoah. It is up to national authorities to take the measures needed on the basis of existing legislation.”
He added: “We Europeans cannot permit ourselves the luxury of dealing with such matters lightly. The European commission certainly won’t do that. Because we enjoy the sad privilege of having experienced how the film ended. We saw this during the last century and do not wish to see any repeat.”
European Jewish Press comment:
The Mayor of Aalst and all participants to the Aalst carnival should be brought to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp or even closer to them the Kazerne Dossin museum in Mechelen, the former transit camp from where the Nazis and their Belgian collaborators deported more than 25,000 Jews and Roma from 1942 to 1944 on 28 transports to the death camp where most of them where killed in gaz chambers.
Rather than taking action against antisemitism at the Aalst carnival, Belgium prefers to single out Israel at the United Nations Security Council by inviting a senior official of an NGO linked to a terrorist group.
The Belgian government needs to listen to the Belgium’s Jewish community which deplores the persistent silence of this government.
To the Jews in Belgium: isn’t it time to be prepared to leave the country in the face of the lack of reaction and action from the Belgian government against this grave manifestation of antisemitism?