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February 24, 2020 3:54 pm

After Antisemitic Carnival in Aalst, Belgian PM, Top EU Body Hint at Legal Action Against Organizers

avatar by Ben Cohen

A antisemitic float on parade at the 2020 carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Photo: Reuters / Yves Herman.

Belgium’s prime minister and the European Union’s executive branch led the chorus of condemnation of Sunday’s annual carnival in the Belgian city of Aalst — which once again featured brazenly antisemitic caricatures — hinting that legal action could yet be taken against the carnival organizers for violating European and national laws against hate speech and incitement.

After 2019’s carnival showcased puppets of crudely-stereotyped Orthodox Jews sitting on bags of money to international condemnation, the 2020 event went even further. One group mocked Jews by wearing huge fur hats, long fake noses and ant costumes — bringing to mind the Nazi association of Jews with “vermin.” Other revelers wore fake hooked noses while carrying signs that read “Do not mock Jews” and “Do not tell the truth about Jews.”

The mock noses were reportedly so popular that a week before the carnival, Joel Rubinfeld — who heads the Belgian League Against Antisemitism — was told during a visit to several stores in Aalst that stocks had run out.

Meanwhile, another float at Sunday’s event, similarly led by boisterous revelers wearing exaggerated “Orthodox Jew” costumes, poked fun at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

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Responding to the spectacle in Aalst, Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said on Sunday evening the antisemitic displays “detract from our values and reputation of our country.”

She also suggested that carnival organizers might yet face legal sanctions.

“Belgium is a state of law,” Wilmès said. “It is for the Justice Department and concerned authorities to determine if the events during the carnival are in contravention of the law.”

In a separate statement, the European Commission — the powerful executive body of the EU that is headquartered in Brussels, just 19 miles from Aalst — said that it was up to the “national authorities” in Belgium to act.

A spokesperson for the Commission told the Belgian newspaper De Standaard that it would nevertheless “look at” the large number of complaints that were received on Sunday urging the Commission to act independently against the Aalst carnival.

The spokesperson added that especially as Europe was marking 75 years since the end of the Holocaust, “such images have no place on European streets.”

Top officials in Aalst openly embraced the antisemitic caricatures displayed on Sunday. A smiling Christoph D’Haese — the far-right Flemish nationalist mayor of Aalst — was seen posing with revelers who wore fake hooked noses, while his party colleague Ben Weyts dismissed protests against the carnival as a “grotesque exaggeration,” since “99.9 percent of the carnival-goers have not made any reference to Jewish themes.”

In an interview with the BBC on Monday, a spokesman for D’Haese insisted that the carnival was merely harmless fun.

“We don’t wish harm to anyone,” Peter Van den Bossche told the broadcaster. “It’s our parade, our humor, people can do whatever they want. It’s a weekend of freedom of speech.”

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