‘Racist’ Belgian carnival which mocks Jews removed from Unesco heritage list

Move comes after parade float featuring Orthodox Jews with hooked noses and sitting on gold bags outraged Belgium’s 40,000-strong Jewish community

May Bulman
Saturday 14 December 2019 13:50
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Aalst’s mayor denied allegations of racism or antisemitism, defending the town as ‘the capital of mockery and satire’
Aalst’s mayor denied allegations of racism or antisemitism, defending the town as ‘the capital of mockery and satire’

Unesco has removed a Belgian carnival that mocks Jews from its heritage list after persistent charges of racism.

The UN’s intergovernmental committee for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage said it was withdrawing the carnival, which takes place each year in the Belgian city of Aalst, “over recurring repetition of racist and antisemitic representations” at the event.

The carnival was initially added to Unesco’s list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2010, but the presence of a parade float featuring Orthodox Jews with hooked noses and sitting on gold bags caused outrage in the country where there is a 40,000-strong Jewish community.

Aalst’s mayor Christoph D’Haese, anticipating Unesco’s decision at a meeting on Sunday, renounced the city’s place on the list before it could be stripped of the designation and defended the carnival.

But he denied allegations of racism or antisemitism, defending Aalst as “the capital of mockery and satire”.

“The citizens of Aalst have suffered grotesque accusations. We are neither antisemitic nor racist. All those who support this are acting in bad faith,” he said in a press release sent to TV Oost Nieuws, according to Belga news agency.

The head of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association said Aalst officials were “jumping before they were pushed”, according to a statement.

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, president of the European Jewish Association, said: “Despite the widespread criticism, despite the clear grotesque antisemitic imagery, despite the opportunity to at least acknowledge the wrong and hurt caused, the mayor of Aalst has consistently remained defiant and mocking.”

Unesco said in a statement that it was “faithful to its founding principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect among peoples” and that it “condemns all forms of racism, antisemitism and xenophobia”.

It comes after a petition calling for the event to be withdrawn from the heritage list garnered more than 22,500 signatures. The petition claimed that the “repeated antisemitic offences” meant it was “time for this privilege to be removed”.

It continued: “This might lead the organisers to ensure that such antisemitic and racist images, which have caused enormous offence to many people and [may] well be illegal, do not appear on the streets of Aalst again.

“This can only be of benefit to community cohesion, democratic values, and human dignity.”

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