Wednesday, 24 Apr 2019 - 19 of Nisan, 5779

Belgian watchdog sets up meeting following Jewish community complaint against antisemitic Carnival float

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Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens  expressed the hope that the Aalst carnival group, the mayor and the Jewish organisations will meet under the auspices of mediation. ”I think it is very important to talk to each other.’’. He also recalled that there is a legislation in Belgium that prosecutes antisemitism and hate crimes.

BRUSSELS—Following a complaint from Jewish organisations against the display of antisemitism during a  Carnival parade in the Belgian city of Aalst last Sunday, Unia, the country’s public watchdog on racism and discrimination, called for a dialogue between the various parties and is setting up a meeting to discuss the inicident, a Unia spokesperson told European Jewish Press. 

During the parade, a float, titled “Shabbat Year,” featured two giant puppets with sidelocks and streimels, hats favored by some Orthodox Jews, in pink suits. One is grinning while smoking a cigar. 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 a wheeled platform directly behind the float, several dozen people dressed like the puppets danced to a song about full coffers that are “Jewishly beautiful” and about “getting extra fat.”

In a statement about the incident – which was strongly condemned earlier this week by the European Commission which asked Belgium to “take the necessary measures” underr the applicable law- Unia argued thaty a carnival “is, in essence, a place of self-deprecation, satire, a tool of social criticism. It is therefore impossible to avoid stereotypes, clichés and generalizations.’’

It added : ‘’But stereotypes and generalizations can obviously be offensive,’’ as it proposed to invite the different parties around the table. “An exchange between people is often invaluable when it comes to overcoming prejudice,” said Patrick Charlier, co-director of Unia.

The mayor of Aalst, Christoph D’Haese, defended the parade and told the media that  such displays in his city ‘’should be allowed” and that “the carnival participants had no sinister intentions.”

The annual carnival was added in 2010 to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO, the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the organisation called on the Belgian authorities ‘’to react to the recent transgressions that occurred at the Aalst Carnival.’’

“The satirical spirit of the Aalst Carnival and freedom of expression cannot serve as a screen for such manifestations of hatred,” said Ernesto Ottone R., Assistant UNESCO Director-General for Culture.

“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.

Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens  expressed the hope that the Aalst carnival group, the mayor and the Jewish organisations will meet under the auspices of mediation. ”I think it is very important to talk to each other.’’. He also recalled that there is a legislation in Belgium that prosecutes antisemitism and hate crimes.

He said that together with the Minister for Equal Opportunities Kris Peeters they would relaunch the ‘’Antisemitism monitoring cell’’ in close contact with the Jewish community.

 

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