At UNESCO, Austria and Poland slam Belgian carnival with anti-Semitic puppets
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At UNESCO, Austria and Poland slam Belgian carnival with anti-Semitic puppets

UN cultural body to consider stripping carnival of recognition; it’s the agency’s duty ‘to be vigilant and uncompromising regarding such occurrences,’ says UNESCO director

Illustrative: A parade float at the Aalst Carnaval in Belgium featuring caricatures of Orthodox Jews atop money bags, March 3, 2019. (Courtesy of FJO, via JTA)
Illustrative: A parade float at the Aalst Carnaval in Belgium featuring caricatures of Orthodox Jews atop money bags, March 3, 2019. (Courtesy of FJO, via JTA)

JTA — Austria and Poland condemned at UNESCO a Belgian carnival that featured an anti-Semitic float that included giant puppets of Orthodox Jews and a rat atop money bags, and the cultural body said it would consider stripping the festival of recognition.

The unusual exchange about the March 3 carnival in Aalst occurred on Thursday at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

The Aalst carnival, one of Europe’s flashiest, was added in 2010 to the list of heritage of humanity events of UNESCO, the United Nations body on culture.

On Friday, UNESCO said it is considering possibly removing the recognition of the carnival.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said Friday it’s the agency’s duty “to be vigilant and uncompromising regarding such occurrences” at the Aalst carnival.

UNESCO representatives have decided to put the issue on the agenda of the next meeting of the committee that makes decisions on the cultural heritage list in December in Colombia. A removal decision would be a first since the 2003 convention that created the label.

The 2019 edition featured a float whose creators said was about rising prices, with grimacing Haredi Jew figures amid money bags. One figures had a puppet rat on his jacket. Dancers dressed like Haredi Jews with rat puppets on their lapels danced on the float.

In 2013, a different group designed for the Aalst carnival a float resembling a Nazi railway wagon used to transport Jews to death camps.

The people who designed the float, known as the FTP Group, marched near the float dressed as Nazi SS officers and ultra-Orthodox Jews. A poster on the wagon showed Flemish Belgian politicians dressed as Nazis and holding canisters labeled as containing Zyklon B, the poison used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews in gas chambers in the Holocaust. UNESCO condemned that display.

The 2019 display sparked an outcry. A petition urging UNESCO to delist the event has received more than 15,000 signatures. Aalst mayor defended the display. Jewish groups’ complaints over alleged incitement in the display are pending.

“It is unthinkable that such imagery is being paraded on European streets, 70 years after the Holocaust,” a spokesperson from the Commission, which is the executive branch of the European Union, later told reporters.

Austria and Poland condemned the display during the meeting Wednesday by a bureau, or governing body, of UNESCO. The bureau has six rotating member states. The Colombian chairmanship of the committee was instrumental in facilitating a discussion about Aalst, according to Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s international relations director.

The Polish and Austrian delegates “oppose any attempt to sugarcoat this example of what they said was anti-Semitism pure and simple,” said Samuels, whose organization is an associate partner of UNESCO.

AP contributed to this report

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