Israel hails UNESCO’s rejection of Belgian carnival over anti-Semitism
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Israel hails UNESCO’s rejection of Belgian carnival over anti-Semitism

FM says he expects Brussels to also speak out against parade that caricatured Jews, after its removal from world culture body’s heritage list

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)
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)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Saturday welcomed the UN cultural body’s decision to remove a Belgian carnival from its world heritage list over its anti-Semitic displays.

“I welcome the right and moral decision to remove the carnival from the Intangible Cultural Heritage list,” Katz said in a statement.

“In the 21st century, as anti-Semitism attempts to rear its ugly head, there is no place for tolerance on the phenomenon,” he said. “We expect the Belgian government to voice a clear and decisive position against the inclusion of anti-Semitic displays at the carnival.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on Friday withdrew an annual carnival in the Belgian city of Aalst from its heritage list.

UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage said it was removing the carnival “over recurring repetition of racist and anti-Semitic representations” at the event.

The carnival of Aalst, in the Belgian Dutch speaking region of Flanders, was initially added to UNESCO’s list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2010.

But the presence in the parade of a float caricaturing Orthodox Jews with hooked noses and sitting on gold bags, outraged Belgium’s 40,000-strong Jewish community.

Anticipating UNESCO’s decision at its meeting in the Colombian capital Bogota, the Aalst’s mayor Christoph D’Haese on Sunday renounced the city’s place on the list before it could be stripped of the designation.

“The citizens of Aalst have suffered grotesque accusations,” the mayor said in a press release sent to TV Oost Nieuws, according to Belga news agency. “We are neither anti-Semitic nor racist. All those who support this are acting in bad faith. Aalst will always remain the capital of mockery and satire,” he said.

The head of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association said Aalst officials were “jumping before they were pushed,” according to a statement.

“Despite the widespread criticism, despite the clear grotesque anti-Semitic imagery, despite the opportunity to at least acknowledge the wrong and hurt caused, the Mayor of Aalst has consistently remained defiant and mocking,” said EJA president Rabbi Menachem Margolin.

A statement released by the meeting in Bogota announcing the decision said “UNESCO is faithful to its founding principles of dignity, equality and mutual respect among peoples and condemns all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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