Aalst carnival sparks criticism after doubling down on antisemitic displays

Aalst carnival sparks criticism after doubling down on antisemitic displays
© Belga

After offering to give up its UNESCO credentials over accusations of antisemitism, the city of Aalst did not back down from using controversial floats and figures in its the latest edition of its yearly parade on Sunday.

Following the controversy sparked last year by a float depicting Orthodox Jews in a stereotypical way, the city said that it would not heed the calls asking for its removal.

On Sunday, the city's choice of defending its right to "mockery and satire" was on full display, with carnival-goers strolling through the streets with oversized shtreimels, donning fake masks and hooked noses as well as dangling, chest-length sideburns.

A group of attendants drew further attention and criticism after showing up to the parade dressed as ants, with large shtreimels crowning their full-body insect suits.

The parade on Sunday drew comments from Interim Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, who said the carnival's depiction of Jews were contrary to Belgian values, VRT reports.

The Belgian premier, who is of Jewish descent, said the stereotypical depictions at the carnival were "prejudicial to Belgian values and to the reputation of the country," namely pointing out the city's patent and "conscious choice" to double down on the display after last year's event.

Last year, a float with figures of Orthodox Jews with crooked noses standing on top stacks of gold coins, with one of the figures carrying a white rat on its shoulder, was paraded through the city, drawing international condemnation.

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The float also prompted UNESCO to say Aalst should remove the float from future editions or risk having the carnival removed from their intangible heritage list.

After the mayor of Aalst attempted to defend the carnival before UNESCO, he said the city would beat the UN cultural agency to the punch, announcing the city would voluntarily give up its spot on the listing, calling out the "insulting accusations" made against Aalst's residents.

The parade on Sunday sparked criticism from other political figures, both at the national and the EU level, MEP and former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt saying on Twitter that both Aalst and Belgium were "better than this."

While the leader of the Francophone Parti Socialiste (PS) said the latest edition of the carnival had been a display of "hatred and contempt," Flemish education minister, Ben Weyts of the N-VA, said the event's detractors criticised "an entire city" over the actions of some carnival-goers, De Morgen reports.

"You cannot [criticise] an entire party and an entire city based on a few participants. Wilmès makes it seem like the entire Aalst Carnival is full of antisemites, while 99.9% of the attendants did not make any reference to Jewish themes," he said.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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