BRUSSELS—A day after the European Commission called an antisemitic parade of puppets of Jews during an annual Carnival event in Belgium ‘’unthinkable 74 years after the Shoah,’’ UNESCO, the Paris-based UN agency for Education and Culture, condemned Wednesday the ‘’racist and anti-Semitic representations.’’
In a statement, Ernesto Ottone R., Assistant UNESCO Director-General for Culture called on the Belgian authorities ‘’to react to the recent transgressions that occurred at the Aalst Carnival, an element inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2010.’’
“The satirical spirit of the Aalst Carnival and freedom of expression cannot serve as a screen for such manifestations of hatred,” he said.
“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 statement came after the Mayor of the city of Aalst, 20 km west of Brussels, where the parade took place, defended the puppets display, speaking of ‘’humor’’ and telleing the media that in his city ‘’it should be allowed.’’ Speaking to the Belgian news agency Belga, the Mayor, Christoph D’Haese he said it was never the intention to offend the Jews.’’. He said he would take contact with the European Commission in order toexplain the context of the city’s carnival.’’ He will do the same with Berlgian Jewish organisations which expressd outrage at the antisemitic display.
The display, titled “Shabbat Year,” featured two giant puppets wearing the fur hats favored by some Haredi Orthodox Jews and pink suits. They both have sidelocks. One of the puppets is grinning while smoking a cigar and extending a hand, presumably to collect money. That puppet has a white rat on his right shoulder. Both puppets are standing on gold coins and have money bags at their feet.
On Tuesday, the spokesperson of the European Commission condemned the float, saying during the daily press briefing : “It is unthinkable that such imagery is being paraded on European streets 74 years after the Shoah.’’ He also stressed that ‘’it is always for national authorities to take action on such individual cases on the basis of the applicable law.’’
The incident took place as the European Commission recently announced a plan to combat the rise of manifestations of antisemitism across Europe.
In a letter to Belgian Security and Interior Minister, Pieter De Crem, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre Director for International Relations, Shimon Samuels, recalled that, “this is not the first such travesty in the Aalst Carnival. Six years ago, a railway car float featured Flemish politicians carrying Zyklon B gas canisters used to mass murder Jews and other victims of the Nazis. Measures, then untaken, encouraged Aalst to permit recidivist hatemongering.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre continued: “Our members expect nothing less than your government’s public condemnation and your Ministry to take measures to penalize the authors of this outrage
“Mr. Minister, the Aalst Carnival float brings not only indignation to world Jewry and their Gentile friends. It portends a threat and alert for both your government portfolios: Interior and Security. Above all, it sullies the good name of Belgium as host of the European Institutions”, concluded Samuels.
The Minster could not be joined for a reaction.