(Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 24, 2020)—B’nai B’rith International President Charles O. Kaufman and CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin have issued the following statement:
This year’s Aalst Carnival generated more abundant and offensive anti-Semitic displays. B’nai B’rith demands that all political authorities overhaul this celebration. While organizers claim no group is spared mockery, insults and humiliation, it would seem that the worst of this horrifying, hateful behavior falls squarely on stereotypical tropes against Jews.
B’nai B’rith is aware that the carnival is rooted in the Middle Ages, when Jews evidently were a primary target for such hatred. But the Middle Ages are long gone. The lessons from this dark time should be taught, but not as comedy. In modern times, this village celebration is a global event with 21st century technology. The “rabbi kits,” hook-nosed masks, sidelocks and massive black hats are not only disrespectful, they are not entertaining because they are offensive.
Mocking religious Jews identifies them as targets for ridicule, abuse and hate. Surely there are ways to celebrate the ignorance of the Middle Ages other than portraying Jews as vermin. B’nai B’rith is deeply concerned about the messages this carnival sends to current and future generations.
Flemish authorities have failed to act, instead further instigating vitriol. Aalst Mayor Christoph D’Haese and Jan Jambon, minister-president of the Flanders region, maintain their support of the parade. They reject any notion that these displays are anti-Semitic. UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) understood the offensive characterizations of Jews by de-listing the event in December 2019. Jambon understandably backs this display of hate as he has been criticized for giving a speech at a celebration of former Flemish Nazi collaborators, not to mention his ties to people affiliated to neo-Nazi organizations.
B’nai B’rith commends vocal opposition to the event, notably from UNESCO, the European Commission, members of the European Parliament and countless civic organizations. Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès has said the carnival “damage[s] our values and the reputation of our country.” Regional political party DéFI has equated the event of amounting to “incitement to hatred” given its hateful imagery and slogans.
A recent Fundamental Rights Agency Survey reports 87 percent of Belgian Jews perceive anti-Semitism as a serious problem nationally; 67 percent avoid wearing Jewish symbols out of fear of being attacked.
While checks on the festival are a necessary first step to overhauling this festival, the long-term solution requires a concerted effort to deconstruct the root biases that prompted the festival displays in the first place.
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit www.bnaibrith.org