A leader of the Belgian Jewish community has warned the annual carnival in Aalst will remain under close scrutiny for the crude antisemitic caricatures it features, after the mayor of the town dismissed critics over the weekend by announcing that he was withdrawing the carnival from the UN’s international cultural heritage list.
Despite severing links with UNESCO, the UN’s cultural and educational agency, the Aalst carnival organizers were “not at liberty to spew any more antisemitic dirt,” Hans Knoop — the head of the Belgian Forum of Jewish Organizations — told The Associated Press news agency on Sunday.
“We will keep a close eye on Aalst,” Knoop pledged.
Knoop was speaking following a TV interview in which Christoph D’Haese — the Flemish nationalist mayor of Aalst — declared that he had lost patience “with the grotesque complaints,” adding that “Aalst will renounce its UNESCO recognition.”
An annual event with its origins in the Middle Ages, the Aalst Carnival was recognized in 2010 by UNESCO as belonging to the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”
Ostensibly dedicated to humor, the carnival has included floats that mock the Holocaust and invoke the antisemitic stereotype of Jews as grasping moneylenders.
A float at the March 2019 carnival featured two giant figures of observant Jews depicted as caricatures with side curls and large noses, sitting on bags of money. Past displays have included a float at the 2013 carnival that featured individuals dressed as Nazi SS officers alongside individuals dressed as Orthodox Jews, holding canisters labeled “Zyklon B” — the deadly poison gas used by the Nazis in Auschwitz and other extermination camps.
At no point in his interview with the VTM network did D’Haese acknowledge the offense caused by the floats. “It was clear that we had to go, so we kept the honor to ourselves,” he stated.
UNESCO had been due to discuss the removal of the Aalst Carnival from the cultural heritage list at an upcoming agency meeting on Dec. 12.
The Aalst carnival has already made clear that further antisemitic spectacles can be expected at its next outing in Feb. 2020. Revealing their plans last October, the organizers published 150 antisemitic caricatures as a riposte to Jewish leaders and politicians who called for their actions to be subject to criminal proceedings under Belgian laws against hate speech.