Brussels, 23 February 2020 – The AJC Transatlantic Institute condemned today’s antisemitic Aalst carnival parade which was allowed to occur unhindered by Belgian authorities. AJC urged Belgian and European Union leaders to condemn the costumes and called on the EU to investigate Belgium.
Doubling down on last year’s giant antisemitic puppets, today’s march featured costumes of black-clad orthodox Jews as man-sized bugs, complete with papier-mâché insect shells and legs which invoked the Nazi-era dehumanization of Jews as vermin. In the weeks leading up to the march, the organizers had reportedly sold hundreds of "rabbi kits" with over-sized noses to strap on, mock side locks, and traditional black hats worn by orthodox Jews.
“In this shameful moment, the world’s eyes are on Belgium. As the Flemish and federal Belgian authorities refused to prevent this grotesque public display of antisemitic hate – and in some cases even outright supported it – the European Union should immediately launch an investigation,” said Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute. “The European Commission ought to consider an Article 7 procedure as the Belgian authorities did nothing to prevent the outright antisemitic costumes, which clearly violate the EU's founding values, built on the lessons of the Holocaust and World War II. As the host of the EU institutions, Belgium has a particular responsibility to respect human dignity and human rights, including the rights of minorities,” Schwammenthal said.
“It’s incomprehensible that 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, such vile displays of antisemitism were allowed to happen in the heart of Europe. The anti-Jewish costumes incited hatred, spread conspiracy theories, and ridiculed Jewish customs and traditions. With very few exceptions, Belgian political leaders have been inexplicably silent in the face of this shameful parade,” Schwammenthal said.
“With rising violent antisemitism in Europe, public displays of anti-Jewish hatred should have long been tossed on the ash heap of history. In the city of Aalst, apparently, peddling stereotypes of Jews as vermin even deserved increased police protection. This parade was nothing short of an outrage and an offense to any civilized country,” Schwammenthal said.
Already last December, mayor Christoph D’Haese initiated the removal of the Aalst carnival from UNESCO’s list of Intangible World Heritage in order to pre-empt the international body’s intention to do so after last year’s antisemitic floats. Apparently making no secret of their own bigotry, the puppets’ creators explained last year the floats’ meaning by saying ‘everything has become so expensive,’ adding yet another layer of antisemitic tropes of Jewish financial power.
According to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights' December 2018 survey of some 15.000 Jews, there was an alarming rise of antisemitism in Europe and particularly in Belgium. The survey showed that 86% of Belgian Jews – second only to French Jews with 95% – are worried about antisemitism.
Last week, the president of Belgium’s Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organisations (CCOJB) Yohan Benizri, has warned the organisers of this year’s Aalst Carnival against any further displays of antisemitism ahead of or during the event after repeated manifestations of antisemitic acts in recent years.
“The government’s ought to have listened to Belgium’s Jewish community, some of whom are considering leaving Europe. The EU ought to send a clear message to Belgium that this behavior has no space in the EU,“ Schwammenthal said.