Belgian parade to give up UNESCO listing over ‘anti-Semitic’ floats

A Belgian town famous for its carnival parade has signaled that it is willing to withdraw from a United Nations cultural listing after the event was condemned for its use of alleged anti-Semitic imagery.

Aalst Carnival is currently recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), but town mayor Christoph D’Haese wants to end the association after stinging criticism related to an “anti-Semitic” float at this year’s parade, according to a statement.

“Citizens of Aalst are done with the preposterous insults,” D’Haese said in a statement to CNN Tuesday. “Therefore we take the most honorable way out and we no longer seek UNESCO recognition for Aalst Carnival.”

Controversy erupted after the March carnival featured caricatures of Orthodox Jews standing on bags of money.

Condemnation from UNESCO

“This was without any doubt anti-Semitic,” said Hans Knoop, spokesman for the Belgian Forum of Jewish Organizations, who told CNN that the carnival float featured the same imagery used to portray Jews in Nazi Germany.

It was not the first time that “anti-Semitic” imagery had been used at Aalst Carnival, Knoop added, pointed out that in a previous year some participants had dressed in SS uniforms.

However, D’Haese defended the carnival as satire, claiming that Aalst locals “have the best sense of humor.”

UNESCO has condemned what it called “racist and anti-Semitic occurrences” during the parade.

“The satirical spirit of the Aalst Carnival and freedom of expression cannot serve as a screen for such manifestations of hatred,” said Ernesto Ottone Ramírez, assistant director-general for culture at UNESCO, in a statement.

UNESCO had said it would examine the “possibility of removing” Aalst Carnival from its list.

Now D’Haese says he is tired of “attacks” on the carnival; he decried what he said was a “hate campaign against Aalst and its political and cultural representatives.”

UNESCO is set to discuss the case at its General Assembly in Colombia later this month — but D’Haese seems happy to lose the listing.

“We consider this an official divorce from an unwanted mother-in-law,” he said.

Knoop told CNN: “It was a choice between jumping or being pushed.”

He warned that withdrawing from the UNESCO cultural listing might encourage Aalst’s authorities to continue using offensive imagery at next year’s carnival.

He urged the Belgian government to step in and make an “example” of the event.

Belgium’s blackface controversy

Critics say Belgium’s folkloric festivals have an issue with the use of blackface.

Earlier this year the controversial Africa Museum — which has attempted to lead a re-education in Belgium about its colonial history — was condemned for allowing an Africa-themed party in its grounds, with one guest seen in blackface and several others in stereotypical clothing.