Sunday, 31 March 2019 14:51

BELGIUM – Antisemitic Float at Aalst Carnival Parade Receives Complacent Response from City Officials

During the annual Carnival parade in Aalst the NGO Vismooil’n walked through the city dressed as caricatured orthodox Jews along with an extremely antisemitic float. Following a backlash, Aalst’s mayor responded by saying he did not want to impose censorship. This is Belgium’s media monitoring highlight for March.

This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of March, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.

Aalst carnival BelgiumDate: 3 March 2019

Group: Vismooil’n VZW

Link: https://bit.ly/2CJd5b5 

Name: Sabbatjoor 2019

Description of the antisemitic content: During the annual Carnival parade in the Belgian city of Aalst, the group Vismooil’n NZW participated dressed as caricatured orthodox Jews with several antisemitic features, including long ugly noses, bags full of cash and coins and rats in their dresses. The group walked together with a float, featuring equally antisemitic themes, which they entitled “Sabbatjoor 2019.” This name refers to Sabbath, which the group chose because they jokingly claim to be “taking a Sabbath year to save money in order to have a more beautiful wagon next year.”

Images of the parade were widely spread as the event is popular in Belgium. It was broadcast on live television, as well as through several social media channels. The TV presenter broadcast made no comment on the antisemitic float or the characters, reacting very nonchalantly when explaining the theme. Shortly after the parade several Jewish organizations and politicians, including Bart de Wever and the European Commission, complained publically. The discussion reached the United Nations, with UNESCO threatening to remove the carnival from the UNESCO Intangible World Heritage list. The case will be discussed during the UNESCO annual meeting in December. In response to criticism, the mayor of Aalst stated that he believes the group when they say there was no malicious intent with the float, and that the city does not want to impose censure on the carnival. 

Myth debunked: The Aalst carnival is well known for its satire, a fact which some are now using to excuse Vismooil’n and their float. Whilst satire is a perfectly acceptable form of expression, it should not serve as a smoke-screen for the promotion of hatred. Caricatures of Jews portrayed as having long noses were used heavily in WW2 Nazi propaganda, and the narrative that Jews have a lot of money and use it to control the world has been a dominant theme in antisemitism for decades. What Vismooil’n displayed at this year’s carnival is clear cut antisemitism, and it should not be accepted by a public figure in power such as the mayor. The mayor references censorship as his reason for not acting on the many complaints his office received; however, what seems to be overlooked here is that removing hate is not censorship. Removing religious hate speech from a public event does not impede free speech in any way.

There is also a broader issue to address here: why were so many people complacent towards Vismooil’n and their float? We can assume that the float took weeks to make, with the help of several people, and that in the run up to the parade, many people saw the float. It is worrying that at no point anyone stopped Vismooil’n from proceeding with the production of this float. Furthermore, when it was broadcast on live television, the presenter did not point out the antisemitic themes represented by the float. It sheds light on a larger societal issue that people are becoming more accepting of antisemitism in everyday life and seeming to forget what destruction such rhetoric has caused in the past. 

More to read:

Jewish Caricatures at Belgian Carnival Set Off Charges of Anti-Semitism

Antisemitism rising sharply across Europe, latest figures show

Debunking Myths about Jews

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