A Call for the Removal of Mayor D’Haese
Recently I read about the controversy surrounding the carnival of the city of Aalst in Belgium. Last week, Aalst went ahead with its carnival, an event that was rank with antisemitic caracatures, Jewish slurs, and prejudice that sadly is a poison that has never quite been drawn from the veins of Europe.
Although many Europeans have exorcised the antisemitic, and overall xenophobic strains of their society, these elements continue to exist. Europe has a poor track record of managing these elements relating to many ethnic and religious groups, but especially the Jews.
So let me break down for you why the Belgian government has a responsibility to remove the Mayor of Aalst from his post, and why the people of Europe have a responsibility to stand up against these reminders of the hate that has run so deeply through their ranks throughout history.
“Let Aalst be Aalst”
“Let Aalst be Aalst.” These are the words of the Mayor of Aalst, Christoph D’Haese, as he faces criticism over the heavy presence of antisemitic and pro Nazi elements that he fought to have a voice in Aalst’s carnival. These are the words of a man who chose to let the city’s carnival lose it’s UNESCO cultural heritage status, rather than removing the antisemitism that was evident to one of the highest seats of cultural authority.
“Let Aalst be Aalst.” As an American Jew, Mr. D’Haese’s words reek of old world European antisemitism. A parade that allows Jews to be shown with rats, money, and gold bars, shown as insects, and mocked, is not allowing a European city to protect its cultural heritage. It is a thinly veiled excuse for an antisemite to continue to be antisemitic in modern times. And all of this is taking place less than 30 kilometers from Brussels, the seat of power in the European Union.
If Jew hatred is part of the beloved culture of Aalst, then Mr. D’Haese has a responsibility as Mayor to fight against it. Lacking to do so and instead defending it, shows that Mr. D’Haese is not qualified for a seat of power within any government.
To the People of Aalst
To the people of Aalst, I sincerely hope that you can understand where I’m coming from. I’m sure that this parade is dear to you and full of beautiful cultural history that deserves to be honored. Yet allowing such hatred to take place overshadows any beauty that this event could bring to the world. Please recognize that what you may see as harmless jest is not merely harmless jest. As a Jew, please believe me, for none but a Jew can truly understand antisemitism as a Jew can. You do not have the right to tell us what is or is not antisemitic.
Even if to you, this is simple fun, to part of your population, it is a small victory towards an agenda of Jew hatred that they will continue to push as long as they feel that it is socially acceptable to do so. Caricatures and prejudices like this are rooted in the thoughts and actions of evil men. The good have a responsibility to stand up against these elements. Europe has a responsibility to stand up against these elements.
Silence in the Face of Evil
There is a famous quote that comes to mind that you may well know. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.” This was said by Dietrich Bonhoffeur, a German pastor who stood up against the Nazis and was hanged for it. Bonhoffeur said these words in the face of great evil, but this action is asked of us all on a smaller scale, everyday.
One of the worst things that we can do as humans is to be silent in the face of evil and injustice. Yes, inaction and ignoring the hard confrontations we don’t want to have is the path of least resistance. Yet in many cases, by doing so, we are in fact paving the way for further harm by emboldening those who do wrong.
By not being silent, we eliminate the social capital that they themselves lay claim to. If all who wished it stood tall and did not allow them to gain ground, we would look around and see that most stand beside us, and the loud and thundering voices of those who hate can never match our strength. Never allow them to trick you into thinking that they are strong.
I feel that I have made my arguments clear. I call on the government of Belgium to eliminate these hateful elements from what I see as a beautiful country that lies at the heart of Europe. If Mayor D’Haese truly seeks to preserve the antisemitic ways of his town, then the government of Belgium has a responsibility to remove him.
Let Belgium set an example that there is a difference between allowing hate, which we have seen turn to action throughout Europe’s history, and healthy dialogue that is the foundation of free speech. One allows people the freedom that they deserve, and the other is a cancerous inflammation in the mind of a great society. We have seen what hate has done to Europe so many times. Let us do what is necessary to tell it that it has no place in what Europe strives to become.