BRUSSELS—US Ambassador to Belgium, Ronald Gidwitz, said he was very pleased by the reactions in the country to the antisemitic display at a recent Carnival parade in the city of Aalst.
The display, which angered the Jewish community, featured two giant puppets wearing the fur hats favored by some Haredi Orthodox Jews and pink suits. They both had sidelocks. One of the puppets was grinning while smoking a cigar and extending a hand, presumably to collect money. It had a white rat on the right shoulder. Both puppets were standing on gold coins and have money bags at their feet.
‘’I was pleased to see the crescendo of criticism both in the general media and on social media in Belgium,’’ the ambassador, who spoke at a conference organised by CCOJB, the umbrella representative group of Belgian Jewish organisations.
‘’Nobody but the people in Aalst seem to think that it was a good idea,’’ he noted.
The European Commission has condemned the antisemitic display, calling it ‘’unthinkable 74 years after the Shoah.’’
The Ambassador said recent reports throughout Europe about the rise of anti-Semitism ‘’are worrying to say the least.’’ ‘’The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency recently reported that 90 percent of European Jews said they feel anti-Semitism has increased in their countries over the last five years,’’ he mentioned. ‘’We are obviously very concerned about this development,’ te ambassador said.
Asked about the U.S. contribution to combating antisemitism, Ambassador Gidwitz stressed the need to continue shining the light on this problem ‘’because most of the people agree that antisemitism is bad.’’
He referred to the recent nomination by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of Elan Carr as U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism. ‘’ Elan Carr, who has long been a champion for the Jewish community in the United States and beyoond, is going to spend time pointing the finger and shining the light on this kind of issue and bringing people together to share experiences and make public the problems that exist. If we don’t talk about it and expose it it will develop like a cancer…We need to fight it every time it appears,’’ Gidwitz said.
”We have been and continue to be extremely busy, developing concrete steps and initiatives to prevent hate and violence from spreading here in Belgium and globally,” he said.
In response to a question, he said antisemitism in the US ‘’seems to be reduced’’. ‘’There is only more publicity about a few events that happened. This is due to the proliferation of social media.’’
Asked about the U.S.plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, he responded with a smile: ‘’I will share it with you as soon as we find out about it.’’ He mentioned the multiple trips by Jared Kushner, senior aide to President Trump, to the region and the ongoing activity of US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman with the State Department. ‘’President Trump is very engaged on this issue. This is one of his major goals, to get this problem solved if he can.He is spending a lot of time on it,’’ he said.
Ambassador Gidwitz took his post in May 2018. Previously, he served as a business executive. He also led important public institutions in Chicago for two decades.