City Defends 'Fun' Mockery of Orthodox Jews

Criticism of last year's parade only made Aalst dig in
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 24, 2020 5:48 PM CST
Parade Parodies of Orthodox Jews Are 'Our Humor,' City Says
A man along the parade route washes people wearing costumes based on a stereotypical depiction of Orthodox Jews on Sunday in Aalst, Belgium.   (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A Belgian city heard much criticism last year after its carnival parade included caricatures of Jewish people. The reaction of Aalst's leaders was to double down. When UNESCO moved to take the city off its cultural heritage list, local officials asked for the action to be taken. When this year's parade was held Sunday, it included people wearing huge fur hats and long fake noses, the BBC reports. Some were dressed in ant costumes. City leaders made no apologies. "It's our humor," a spokesman for the mayor said. "Just fun." It was a weekend of free speech, he said. "There isn't a movement behind it." The city responded to UNESCO's complaints by mocking the agency in the parade. Other targets were Boris Johnson, Queen Elizabeth and Brexit; climate activist Greta Thunberg; and Jesus.

Early estimates had more than 60,000 people attending the parade, per the Brussels Times, which included the group dressed as ants—criticized as echoing the Nazi labeling of Jewish people as "vermin." There were also marchers in Nazi SS uniforms. Belgium's prime minister was among those denouncing the parade; Sophie Wilmès said the caricatures were opposed to the nation's values, per the Times, and harmful "to the reputation of the country." Wilmès, who is of Jewish heritage, singled out the city's decision to increase the caricatures this year. Israeli's foreign minister appealed to the city to cancel carnival. One national politician said it's unfair to blame the city for the actions of a few. "Wilmès makes it seem like the entire Aalst carnival is full of antisemites," he said. The mayor's spokesman said: "What can we do about it? Put people in prison? No." (Read more antisemitism stories.)

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