Belgians Deploy 800 Extra Cops to Ensure Smooth Running of Antisemitic Aalst Carnival
More than 800 extra police officers will be deployed on the streets of the Belgian city of Aalst this weekend to ensure that its annual carnival — where crudely antisemitic caricatures are expected to be on prominent display — runs without incident.
Federal police agents as well as officers from nearby regions were being drafted into Aalst ahead of the four-day carnival, which begins on Sunday, the Belgian news outlet HLN reported on Thursday.
The report noted that the police had been issued with additional instructions for the carnival, but despite widespread concern about antisemitic incitement during the festivities, these appeared to be limited to a crackdown on stores and bars in Aalst that serve alcohol to younger revelers.
The additional taxpayer-funded resources for the carnival were announced as five members of the European Parliament disclosed that Aalst had been flooded with antisemitic flyers in recent days.
“Flyers depicting similar imagery as from last year’s parade, portraying Jews as puppet masters that control global institutions, are currently circulating throughout the town,” the five MEPs — who all serve on the antisemitism working group of the parliament — wrote in an open letter published on Wednesday.
“Thus, we expect this year’s edition to only escalate the hateful messages from last year,” the MEPs cautioned.
They continued: “It pains us that while we European Parliamentarians debate the issue of antisemitism in Europe, hateful imagery is displayed just 30 kilometers away. We urge both local and national authorities to take necessary action to ensure that the Aalst Carnival does not continue as a publicly endorsed and supported platform for antisemitism and hate.”
An annual event rooted in medieval times, 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.” Last year, that status was revoked over what UNESCO condemned as a “recurring repetition of racist and antisemitic representations.”
The carnival’s last outing, in March 2019, included a float with two giant figures of observant Jews depicted as caricatures with side curls and large noses, sitting on large bags of money. Another float featured dancers wearing the full regalia of the Ku Klux Klan, while other puppets on display crudely mocked black people. Dozens of revelers were spotted wearing “blackface.”
Past carnivals have included a float that featured individuals dressed as Nazi SS officers alongside individuals dressed as Orthodox Jews, with a display of canisters labeled “Zyklon B” — the deadly poison gas used by the Nazis at the Auschwitz death camp.
Israeli representatives also registered their anger over the Aalst Carnival, emphasizing that its 2020 outing coincides with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
“If last year, the Aalst carnival had the excuse of ignorance, it no longer has it,” Emmanuel Nahshon — Israel’s ambassador in Brussels — told the Belgian news outlet L’Echo on Thursday.
“It would be a great shame if what is happening in Aalst blackens the reputation of Belgium, which does not deserve it,” the paper quoted Nahshon as saying.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz also entered the fray, tweeting a call on Belgian authorities to ban the “hateful parade.”
Belgium as a Western Democracy should be ashamed to allow such a vitriolic antisemitic display. I call upon the authorities there to condemn and ban this hateful parade in Aalst. pic.twitter.com/3TId7ZveOT
— ישראל כ”ץ Israel Katz (@Israel_katz) February 20, 2020
Carnival organizers — led by Aalst Mayor Christoph D’Haese, who represents the right-wing Flemish nationalist N-VA Party — have insisted that the demonizing images of Jews on display were merely harmless fun, and that these could be expected to again appear this year.
“We are neither antisemitic nor racist,” D’Haese claimed in December. “Anyone who says that is acting in bad faith.”