By Cnaan Liphshiz
Caricatures of Jews, including some depicting them as ants, were prominently displayed at the annual parade in Aalst, Belgium, about 10 miles from Brussels.
There were similar antisemitic displays last year.
Participants said the new displays were designed to reject the criticism of the town and carnival.
“This is us saying we’re not going to stop making fun of everyone,” a man who identified himself as Fred van Oilsjt, 26, told me while wearing a costume that exaggerates the suits favoured by charedi men. (Oilsjt is Aalst in the local dialect.)
He and 11 other members of his group also wore an ant’s abdomen and legs attached to their backs and a sticker that read “obey” on their lapels.
Antisemitic imagery has often associated Jews with vermin, but he said the display was meant to be a pun referencing how the Dutch-language word for the Western Wall sounds like “complaining ant”.
Another group wore fake hooked noses and charedi costumes in protest.
Their float had a sign labelled “regulations for the Jewish party committee”, and it included: “Do not mock Jews” and “Certainly do not tell the truth about the Jew”.
Among the thousands of revellers who watched the parade from the sidelines, dozens of people wore fake charedi costumes, including one person who also wore large troll feet.
Rudi Roth, a journalist for the Antwerp-based Joods Actueel Jewish newspaper, said the expressions of antisemitism in Aalst this year were more numerous and prominent than last year. He called it a “backlash effect”.
Last year, the Aalst carnival included effigies of grinning Orthodox Jews holding bags of money, with a rat perched on one effigy’s shoulders.
The report brought scrutiny to the city. In December, UNESCO pulled its endorsement of the Aalst Carnival as a world heritage event, and Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz has called for what he labelled a “hateful” event to be banned.
Meanwhile, celebrities have backed out of appearances with Aalst’s mayor, who has defended the parade displays.
Belgium’s Jewish prime minister Sophie Wilmes said that some caricatures of Jews “damage” the country’s values and reputation.
Aalst’s mayor, Christophe D’Haese of the right-wing New Flemish Alliance, said that in the “context of the carnival, these displays are not antisemitic. This is not an anti-Semitic event,” he told journalists at a press conference.
Joel Rubinfeld, the president of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, condemned the displays, which, he said, “although are the work of a minority of participants and spectators, stain the whole event.”
He said the event “certainly has antisemitic elements,” the likes of which he said had not been on display since the end of the Nazi occupation in 1945.
“Aalst’s name is now associated with antisemitism,” Rubinfeld, said, “and that’s partly because of the mayor’s inaction.”
At a carnival procession in the Spanish town of Campo de Criptana, participants dressed like Nazis and Jewish concentration camp prisoners while dancing next to a float evoking crematoria.
The Israeli embassy in Madrid said: “We condemn the vile and repugnant representation that disrespects the victims of the Holocaust, making fun of the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis.”
A video of the procession shows the participants marching in their fake Nazi uniforms.
Behind them, dancers wearing striped outfits evoking concentration camp uniforms followed while waving Israeli flags.
They were followed by the float shaped like a train locomotive with two large chimneys.
Meawhile, employees of the Dutch national railways sang for passengers a football song about Jews that the state-owned company said was “wholly inappropriate”.
Nederlandse Spoorwegen, or NS, apologised for the incident, which happened just after midnight aboard a train heading from a parade in the southern city of Tilburg to Rotterdam.
“Where do the Jews come from? From Israel, far away. Do super Jews live there, too? Yeah, super Jews live there, too. Do Jews like soccer? Only when they’re rooting for Ajax,” the employees sang, the AD newspaper reported based on complaints by some of the passengers.
The supporters and players of Ajax Amsterdam are often referred to as “Jews”, perhaps in recognition of Amsterdam’s rich Jewish history.
Many non-Jewish Ajax fans refer to themselves as Jews and wave Israeli flags at matches.
Supporters of other teams have taken to taunting Ajax supporters with antisemitic imagery and chants about Hamas, gas chambers, Nazis and burning Jews.
In recent years, the chants have increasingly begun to appear in contexts that are not related to football, such as the carnival and school graduation parties.
“It is our understanding that a pro-Ajax soccer song was performed,” NS said on Sunday. “We find this wholly inappropriate.”
The Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI, Dutch Jewry’s watchdog on antisemitism, called the incident “stupid beyond words” and “unacceptable”.
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