The Belgian town of Aalst is so attached to its anti-Semitic parade floats in its annual satirical carnival that it chose to relinquish its UN cultural heritage status rather than agreeing to cease displaying blatantly outrageous anti-Semitic imagery.
Earlier this week, Aalst mayor Christoph D’Haese said: “[We] have had it a bit with the grotesque complaints and Aalst will renounce its UNESCO recognition. We are neither anti-Semitic nor racist. All those who support this are acting in bad faith. Aalst will always remain the capital of mockery and satire.”
The UN was slated to hold a vote on December 12 to determine if the carnival would be removed from its cultural heritage status, the first time in history that such a step would have been taken. But D’Haese decided to preempt the decision and willingly give up the carnival’s status. After all, as D’Haese said, poking fun at the Jews in the 2020 parade is simply “unavoidable.”
“We are on a very dangerous slippery slope when people can decide what can be laughed at,” the mayor asserted. He also called the Jewish organizations that opposed the Jewish imagery as “a power apparatus. They are well organized. We have received messages from all over the world, often not in the friendliest terms.”
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, head of the European Jewish Association, had harsh words for D’Haese’s decision: “Despite the widespread criticism, despite the clear grotesque anti-Semitic imagery, despite the opportunity to at least acknowledge the wrong and hurt caused, the Mayor of Aalst has consistently remained defiant and mocking.”
“It is sad that when given the opportunity to put things right and return the carnival to universal values of decency, they instead prefer to put themselves outside of the pale. So be it.”
The Aalst Carnival, which has been taking place for centuries, occurs every year three days before Lent, a 40-day period of religious preparation for Easter in the Christian religion, especially important for Roman Catholics. In 2010, the carnival, which is attended by tens of thousands of people, was added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
In 2013, the carnival featured a float of a Nazi cattle car with “Nazi SS officers” as well as “bearded religious Jews” walking next to it. A poster on the “cattle car” showed Belgian politicians in Nazi uniforms brandishing canisters of Zykon B, the poison used in the Nazi gas chambers to kill millions of Jews.
All is justified in the name of satire.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)