Weisenthal Center to Belgian PM: Act against Aalst parade

The letter pointed out that while several UNESCO member-states had called for the delisting of the carnival, Belgian officials are reportedly lobbying "for a simple rebuke."

By
November 3, 2019 15:19
2 minute read.
Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015

Giant figures are seen during the 87th carnival parade of Aalst February 15, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN)

Simon Weisenthal Centre's international relations director, Shimon Samuels, called on Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes to act against the widely condemned antisemetic parade floats used at the annual Aalst Carnaval, specifically requesting that she move to delist the carnival from UNESCO's list of Intangibe Cultural Heritage of Humanity at December's UNESCO assembly in Bogota, Colombia.

The carnival has been part of UNESCO's list since 2010.

In a letter to Belgium's first-ever Jewish prime minister, Samuels attempted "to direct your Foreign Ministry to encourage the UNESCO (UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Intangible Cultural Heritage member-States to delist the Aalst carnival at the Bogota assembly in  December and to take appropriate punitive measures against apparent recidivist incitement at home.”

The letter pointed out that while several UNESCO member-states had called for the delisting of the carnival, Belgian officials are reportedly lobbying "for a simple rebuke.

“As the first woman and Jewish prime minister of Belgium, we know of your commitment to fight antisemitism and Holocaust,’’ Samuels continued. "We urge you to direct your Foreign Ministry to encourage the Intangible Cultural Heritage member-States to delist Aalst at the Bogotá assembly and to take appropriate punitive measures against apparent recidivist incitement at home.”

The controversial float in question from March's parade was made by the Vismooil’n carnival group and titled “Shabbat Year.” It featured two giant puppets in pink suits resembling stereotypical caricatures of ultra-Orthodox Jews, complete with peyot and streimels. Both puppets were shown standing on gold coins and had money bags at their feet.

Directly behind the float was a wheeled platform with dozens of people dressed like the caricatures as they danced to a song about “Jewishly beautiful” full coffers and “getting extra fat.”

A carnival spokesperson reported that the float was meant to address how "everything has become so expensive."

However, despite UNESCO's condemnation of the floats, they have yet to be delisted. Furthermore, Aalst's mayor said in a statement that the floats, while antisemetic, were not "intentionally racist." As Belgian law states that hate speech is only criminal when it is intentional, this meant that the organizers faced no repercussions.

Two weeks ago, this controversy was further exacerbated when one of the carnival organizers released ribbons with over 150 published antisemetic caricatures ahead of the 2020 Carnival. The Carnival is set to focus on "UNESCO and the Jews" under the slogan "UNESCO, What a Farce."

In response, UNESCO has invited Belgium's ambassador to explain the controversial ribbons.


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