According to Flemish daily Het Laatste Nieuws, participants of the Aalst Carnival have now targeted UNESCO and the Jews with a new provocation by releasing 150 different carnival ribbons in view of the 2020 parade. “Unesco, what a farce”, reads one of the ribbons above a cartoon of a Jew with a hooked nose.The slogans include, among other things: “Unesco, we all laugh at everyone.”
”The thing about a joke is that it is supposed to make everyone laugh. And we Jews have a fantastic sense of humour. But no Jew anywhere in Europe is laughing,” says EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin.
BRUSSELS—Last March, the annual Carnival parade in the Belgian city of Aalst, 20 km west of Brussels, featured antisemitic puppets of Orthodox Jews, arousing an outcry among Jewish groups and condemnation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the European Commission which denounced the antisemitic representation.
Jewish groups have demanded that the carnival event be removed from the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity, pointing out to the context of rising antisemitism in Europe. Being on the list makes the carnival eligible to funding from the UN agency. The decision of the Paris-headquartered UNESCO is expected for December at a meeting of the Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Bogota, Colombia.
The Carnival float, titled “Shabbat Year,” featured two giant puppets depicting orthodox Jews complete with traditional sid e-curls, in pink suits, standing amidst bags of money among rats. Despite the outcry among Jewish groups, the Aalst Mayor declined to condemn the display, describing the floats as ”humoristic.”
At the time, Ernesto Ottone, Assistant Director-General for Culture at UNESCO, issued a statement condemning the Aalst Carnival floats. “The satirical spirit of the Aalst Carnival and freedom of expression cannot serve as a screen for such manifestations of hatred,” he said, adding: “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.’’
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, who is Jewish, noted that ‘’this is not the first time that these racist and anti-Semitic floats parade in this festival.’’
The European Commission also condemned the display of antisemitic puppets. ‘’It should be self-evident that to see such images in the streets of Europe 74 years after the Shoah is unthinkable,’’ declared Commission spokesperson Margaritas Schinas.
“We Europeans do not have the luxury of taking this lightly… because we have the sad privilege of having experienced how this ends,” he said, adding: ‘’The European Commission position has, is and will always be very clear : we stand firmly stand against all forms of antisemitism,’’ the spokesperson said.
In September, a delegation from the city of Aalst, led by its mayor Christoph D’Haese, travelled to UNESCO in Paris to defend the parade and explain to the UN agency authorities ‘’that the Aalst Carnival had no anti-Semitic or racist intentions, quite the contrary.”
According to Flemish daily Het Laatste Nieuws, participants of the Aalst Carnival have now targeted UNESCO and the Jews with a new provocative release of 150 different carnival ribbons in view of the 2020 parade. “Unesco, what a farce”, reads one of the ribbons above a cartoon of a Jew with a hooked nose. The slogans include, among other things: “Unesco, we all laugh at everyone.”
“Pure provocation,” according to the Forum of Jewish Organizations (FJO) in Antwerp. “At the carnival parade we could still understand that the impact on the global Jewish community had been underestimated,” said FJO spokesman Hans Knoop. “Then there was clearly a lack of empathy and Aalst came into the world press. The fact that new images are now being launched, with the same stereotypical hooked nose and hats, is a pure provocation. These are cartoons with an unadulterated anti-Semitic approach,’’ he added..
“Unfortunate timing,” responded the Aalst mayor. “We don’t laugh at the Jews, but at UNESCO,” saids Kris Vonck, the maker of the ribbons with the cartoons. Such a “ribbon” – a fabric patch with cartoons and slogans – is a tradition in the carnival world, he said.
According to Knoop, the fact that the designer claims that no “bad things” are depicted is just part of the problem. “The man uses exactly the same anti-Semitic stereotypical images that led to the concentration camps and gas chambers. The same kind of images appeared in Der Stürmer in the 1930s, the Nazi magazine par excellence,” he stressed.
“I will be writing to UNESCO to demand it ceases to fund or associate in anyway with this carnival”
For European Jewish Association Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin ‘’it is now clear that UNESCO, who are due to make a decision in December on whether to keep the carnival on the world heritage list, must remove any association or sponsorship of the carnival.
In a statement, he said: “A one off is a one off and we hoped that this was the case with the disgusting images at last year’s carnival. Instead these ribbons represent a wilful desire to offend. The thing about a joke is that it is supposed to make everyone laugh. And we Jews have a fantastic sense of humour. But no Jew anywhere in Europe is laughing.”
“Instead we recoil in disgust at the grotesque way that carnival seeks to portray us, money grabbing, greedy and big nosed. Why? Because it is straight out of the Nazi playbook. It is dangerous. It seeks to set apart Jews from mainstream Belgian society. And its offensive.”
Rabbi Margolin said he will be writing to UNESCO ”to demand it ceases to fund or associate in anyway with this carnival from now on.” ”The Carnival itself is now beyond the pale and we expect nothing from people who get their humour kicks from kicking Jews. This is supposed to be 2019 not 1939.”