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October 25, 2019 12:24 pm

Belgian Jewish Leaders Hit Out at Government-Funded Anti-Racism Body Over Antisemitic Carnival Images

avatar by Ben Cohen

An antisemitic float on display at the 2019 Aalst Carnival in Belgium. Photo: courtesy of FJO.be,

Jewish leaders in Belgium on Friday castigated the country’s publicly-funded agency to combat racial discrimination for its refusal to support criminal proceedings over a display of grotesquely antisemitic images at a carnival in the city of Aalst earlier this year.

In a statement, the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium (CCJOB) took to task UNIA — which describes itself as “an independent public institution that combats discrimination and promotes equal opportunities” — for defending the organizers of the Aalst Carnival from possible criminal charges over a float at the March 2019 carnival that featured two giant figures of observant Jews depicted as caricatures with side curls and large noses, sitting on bags of money.

A report issued by UNIA on Thursday conceded that “the float in its entirety reproduces unmistakable antisemitic stereotypes.” However, it added, “the contextual elements and the explanation of the responsible parties from the Vismooil’n group [the organizers of the offending float] led to a decision that this cannot be considered a malicious intent in the legal meaning of the term.”

UNIA’s report was released in the same week that the organizers of the Aalst Carnival published 150 caricatures mocking Jews ahead of next year’s event, scheduled for February 2020. In its statement, the CCJOB asked pointedly, “Is this what we want to show our children?”

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The Belgian Jewish organization affirmed that it could “only deplore the disastrous consequences of the Carnival: the massive spread (directly and indirectly) of extremely charged antisemitic prejudices (hooked nose, control of the economy and banks, etc.).” The statement added, “This reminds us of the hateful, racist, homophobic songs sung in football stadiums, under the guise of folklore.”

An annual event with its origins in the Middle Ages, the Aalst Carnival was recognized in 2010 by UNESCO  — the UN’s cultural and educational agency — as belonging to the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”

The antisemitic images on display at this year’s event were strongly condemned by UNESCO. “The satire spirit of the carnival of Aalst and freedom of expression cannot be used as a screen for such manifestations of hatred,” said Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, Assistant Director-General for Culture at UNESCO.

UNESCO announced on Friday that it had summoned the Belgian ambassador to the organization to express its concern over ribbons printed in advance of the 2020 Aalst Carnival that included a caricature of an Orthodox Jew with gold teeth and a red nose. Slogans mocking UNESCO in retaliation for its criticism of the 2019 carnival accompanied the images.

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