Sheldon Kirshner
Sheldon Kirshner

The Aalst Carnival: An Incubator Of Antisemitism

Good riddance to a carnival that shamelessly crossed the red line into the odious swamp of antisemitism.

Last March, the famous carnival in the Belgian town of Aalst, recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization nine years ago, caused outrage by allowing a clearly antisemitic float into its parade.

Composed of effigies of two grinning and repulsive ultra-orthodox Jews clutching bags of money, it was condemned as racist and antisemitic by UNESCO and by Jewish organizations. The European Union accused it conjuring up visions of 1930s fascism in Europe.

Asked to remove this outrageous float, the carnival flatly refused, claiming it is an integral component of its tradition of edgy humor, mockery of all religions and creeds, and a commentary on the rising cost of living in Belgium.

Christoph D’Haese, the mayor of Aalst, made this argument to UNESCO at its headquarters in Paris. “In Aalst, this should be allowed,” D’Haese said, falsely portraying the carnival as forum for free speech and satire.

In fact, it is an incitement to hatred.

As a result of D’Haese’s pig-headed recalcitrance, UNESCO properly decided to address the issue at its forthcoming meeting in Bogota, Colombia, from December 9-14. At stake here was whether to remove Aalst from its list of important cultural heritage expressions.

Preempting UNESCO’s verdict, which probably would have penalized Aalst, D’Haese renounced its recognition, which translates into a dividend in terms of increased tourism.

“The people of Aalst have had it with the grotesque allegations,” Aalst said in a statement. “We are not antisemites 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.”

People of goodwill will reject Aalst’s antediluvian attitude.

It’s debatable whether the residents of Aalst are antisemites or racists, but their endorsement of this miserable float cannot be anything but a reflection of stubbornness, short-sightedness and stupidity.

Do they not realize that such floats, steeped in antisemitic caricatures, are offensive. Do they not know that such imagery was exploited by European fascists to dehumanize Jews and set the stage for the Holocaust?

It would appear that the organizers of the Aalst carnival are obtuse and clueless. Lest it be forgotten, they have a history of demonstrably bad behavior and poor taste.

A decade ago, men dressed in traditional ultra-Orthodox Jewish clothes and wearing fake hooked noses and Palestinian symbols were permitted to appear in the carnival parade. In 2013, revellers resembling Nazis and holding canisters of poisonous gas labelled Zyklon B walked alongside concentration camp prisoners in cages.

It goes without saying that such displays incite ridicule, if not animosity, against Jews. It’s not surprising that antisemitic incidents in Belgium nearly doubled from 2017 to 2018, and that almost one-quarter of Belgians harbor anti-Jewish attitudes.

In short, this politically incorrect carnival is an incubator of antisemitism, its strenuous denials notwithstanding.

Let us rejoice that this carnival voluntarily removed itself from UNESCO’s list of important cultural expressions. It won’t be missed.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,
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