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Anti-Semitic caricatures, symbols appear at Belgium carnival for 2nd year in a row

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The Aalst Carnival parade included stereotypical depictions of Jews for the second year in a row and the Belgian government said that the anti-Semitism in the three-day festival embarrassed the nation and endangers society.

The Carnival was kicked off the United Nations’ UNESCO heritage list last year after a float rife with anti-Semitic symbols raised worldwide condemnation. Yet despite all the warnings, some again targeted Jews.

“Even though Aalst Carnival is much more than that, these facts detract from our values and reputation of our country,” Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said in a statement.

Festival committee chair Dirk Verleysen said floats or individuals “that exceed all limits” of decency would be taken out of the parade, but offensive elements did appear.

Earlier this week, Israel called on Belgium to scrap the annual Aalst parade. Yet one group on Sunday walked around the parade dressed up like insects with fur hats worn by some ultra-Orthodox Jewish men.

Wilmes suggested that authorities would see if they could take action.

“Belgium is a state of law. It is for the Justice Department and concerned authorities to see if the events during Carnival are in contravention of the law.”

She said that stereotypes that stigmatize “lead to division. It endangers society. Specifically when it comes to repeated and conscious actions.”

Aalst mayor Christoph D’Haese, who has been criticized for taking insufficient action after last year’s offensive float, called Wilmes “otherwordly,” and added that “I did not see an anti-Semitic or racist parade. To the contrary, I saw a high mass of free speech and creativity.” He took time to pose with a Carnival reveler wearing a stereotypical hooked nose.

Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, countered D’Haese’s view and said that “the satirical procession with anti-Semitic tropes in Aalst, Belgium, are extremely offensive and abuse the power of free speech which is such an essential ingredient in any liberal democracy.”

The EU office of the American Jewish Committee immediately called on the European Union to investigate the parade.

“Belgian authorities did nothing to prevent the outright anti-Semitic costumes, which clearly violate the EU’s founding values, built on the lessons of the Holocaust and World War II,” said Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the AJC Brussels-based Transatlantic Institute.

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