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5 Mar, 2019 13:22

Rats, hooked noses & bags of money: Belgian carnival slammed for ‘anti-Semitic’ float (VIDEO)

Rats, hooked noses & bags of money: Belgian carnival slammed for ‘anti-Semitic’ float (VIDEO)

Jewish groups say that an ‘appalling’ float at a carnival in Belgium brings back Nazi-era anti-Semitic stereotypes. The event also sparked controversy by featuring blackface and marchers in KKK hoods handing out chocolate.

Two umbrella groups, representing French and Flemish-speaking Jews in Belgium, filed a complaint to the public anti-discrimination watchdog, Unia, protesting the ‘anti-Semitic’ float paraded during a carnival in the city of Aalst on Sunday. They also filed complaints to the organizers of the event and the local authorities.

The float, titled ‘Shabbat Year’, contained two large pink puppets of stereotypical Jews, complete with sidelocks and traditional headgear, associated with Orthodox Judaism. One puppet was equipped with a white rat, sitting on its shoulder, a cigar and a grinning smile. Both had large hooked noses, with golden coins and bags of money scattered at their feet. Some religious Jewish symbolism was present as well.

The Belgian Jewish organizations were “utterly appalled” by the moving installation, noting that they value humor but “some lines cannot be crossed.”

“The caricatures, like those published in [the Nazi-era paper] Der Sturmer, depicting Jews with hooked noses and holding suitcases, were typical during the Nazism in 1939. In a democracy like Belgium, there must be no room for this in 2019, be it carnival or not,” they wrote in a statement.

The groups stressed that such depiction of Jews is especially alarming in the context of “the rise of anti-Semitism” in Belgium and the world. Their sentiment was shared by advocacy groups and Jewish public figures overseas.

“The anti-Semitic Jews-and-money trope is deadly, not for jest,” Senior Vice President at the Anti-Defamation League, Sharon Nazarian wrote in a tweet.

Israeli-based lawyer and political commentator Arsen Ostrovsky called the carnival stunt “sick anti-Semitism at its worst.” Eran Cicurel, an editor and presenter at the Israeli public broadcaster IPBC, wrote that anti-Semitism has shown its “ugly face” in Aalst, as he posted a video from the carnival.

The veteran prop-making team, which designed the controversial float, said that it was meant to symbolize the rising prices in Belgium and the need to be frugal. “Everything has become so expensive,” the team's leader, Matthias explained before the scandal broke.

The group later stated that its set piece wasn't “ridiculing faith.”“A carnival is simply a feast with caricatures. We thought that it would be comical for us – dressed as pink Jews – to display a safe where we store our money in. The humor is present in other religions as well,” the float-makers told local media. They also said that they had to alert the police due to the threats they were getting in connection to the float.

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Meanwhile, the ‘Shabbat Year’ wasn’t the only part of the carnival which sparked outrage. The procession in Aalst also featured white people in ‘blackface’ makeup. Another float had marchers handing out chocolate bars while wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods. According to Belgian media, it was reference to a controversial joke made by a local right-wing politician, who compared a photo of black children to “chocolate mousse.”

The city's mayor Christoph D'Haese spoke out against censorship, saying that such floats should be permitted at the carnival.

“It's not up to the mayor to ban them. The participants at the carnival had no foul intentions.”

Some commenters expressed the same opinion, pointing out that carnivals exist to poke fun at certain issues. “We need a National ‘Make fun of whatever you want (jokingly)’ day, free of repercussions. No limits, have thick skin & laugh at what you think is funny,” one person wrote.

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