'Antisemitic' Belgian carnival gives up UNESCO status

Aalst mayor: Mocking Jews ‘unavoidable’ in the 2020 carnival

Giant figures depicting Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel (C) and other politicians are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015. The Aalst Carnival, which is inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, often shows informal groups  (photo credit: YVES HERMAN / REUTERS)
Giant figures depicting Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel (C) and other politicians are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015. The Aalst Carnival, which is inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, often shows informal groups
(photo credit: YVES HERMAN / REUTERS)
A Belgian town that sparked outrage for featuring an antisemitic float in its renowned carnival has decided to renounce their UN cultural heritage status after dealing with the accusations, the German publication DW reported on Sunday.
The mayor of Aalst, Christoph D’Haese, also said it is “unavoidable” that Jews will be mocked again in the 2020 edition.
Aalst Carnival was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.
The UN body was scheduled to vote on removing the centuries-old event from its cultural heritage list on December 12, in a move that would have marked the first time in the history of the organization that an entry was up for delisting.
However, the town decided to give up its designation on its own accord. According to German publication Deutsche Welle, D’Haese said that city officials “have had it a bit with the grotesque complaints.”
In a statement quoted by Belga news agency, D’Haese said “We are neither antisemitic nor racist. All those who support this are acting in bad faith. Aalst will always remain the capital of mockery and satire.”
Aalst has been at the center of a major controversy after one of the 2019 carnival floats presented effigies of grinning Jews holding money with rats on their shoulders.
The latest edition was not the first time that the event was accused of harboring antisemitism.
According to JTA, a float in 2009 featured men dressed like Orthodox Jews wearing fake hooked noses and Palestinian symbols, while the 2013 edition had revelers dressed like Nazis holding canisters labeled “Zyklon B” walking alongside caged revelers dressed like Nazi concentration camp prisoners. Zyklon B was the poison used by the Nazis to kill Jews in gas chambers.
The event attracts tens of thousands of people every year and is famous for being provocative.
“We are on a very dangerous slippery slope when people can decide what can be laughed at,” the mayor said, before adding that more Jewish ridicule is to be expected in the next edition of the carnival.
D’Haese also called the Jewish organizations that criticized the carnival “a power apparatus,” according to the Belgian paper De Standaard. “They are well organized. We have received messages from all over the world, often not in the friendliest terms.”
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, head of the Brussels-based 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. It is sad that when given the opportunity to put things right and return the carnival to universal values of decency, they instead prefer to put themselves outside of the pale. So be it. What we are witnessing tonight is a face-saving exercise, a classic example of someone jumping before they were pushed.”

JTA contributed to this report.