A Belgian town slammed for ‘Nazi-style’ anti-Semitism after a float depicting Jewish stereotypes was paraded through the streets has sacrificed its UN heritage status.
The float featured two men with sidelocks and crooked noses wearing streimels, a fur hat favoured by some orthodox Jews, while sitting atop piles of cash.
It was paraded through Aalst in East Flanders during its annual carnival earlier this year – an event featured since 2010 on the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Amid a wave of criticism, the UN scheduled a vote on December 12 that could have seen the town stripped of the title, but defiant officials decided to give it up instead.
Belgium’s Forum of Jewish Organisations, who likened the parade’s depiction of Jews to that seen in Nazi propaganda, said ‘it seemed like the choice between jumping or being pushed’.
‘This means that any future anti-Semitic excesses will no longer be legitimized by this UN organization,’ a spokesman said.
‘The Forum of Jewish Organizations expresses the sincere wish that Aalst refrain from hurtful and/or racist expressions at future carnivals.
‘The carnival with rabid anti-Semitic expressions turned out to be a bad thing not only for the Jewish community but for the whole of Belgium.
‘Everywhere in the world, Aalst has been reported extensively in the media, which has caused great reputational damage to Belgium’s image as a host country for the EU.
‘This is one of the reasons why the EU Commission strongly condemned the excesses in Aalst last year.
‘In the event of a recurrence of the excesses during the coming carnival, the FJO will not hesitate to remind Aalst its responsibility.’
In a statement, defiant city hall chiefs were unapologetic about the depiction of Jews in the annual parade.
‘The people of Aalst have had it with the grotesque allegations,’ the statement said.
‘We are not anti-Semites or racists. Whoever says we are does so in bad faith. Aalst will always remain the capital of ridicule and satire. Come what may, we will stand by our humorists.
‘The people of Aalst are the bravest. That is why we are taking the initiative and walking away from UNESCO recognition.’
Shortly after the parade, Ernesto Ottone Ramirez of UNESCO slammed the parade for its ‘manifestations of hatred’ and said the float ran contrary to the organisation’s values.
The float was created by the Vismooil’n group, which regularly participates in the Aalst carnival.
Ahead of the carnival, they told a Belgian blogger that this year’s float was addressing the impact of rising prices.