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The Untouchables: Jewish groups demand apologies over Belgian Carnival caricatures and pranks

Carnival in 2019 in Europe this year went on, as usual, has it has been for centuries, with millions of people celebrating the day while dressing up after a figure they admire, to mock or just a critique of current society, the most important thing is having the most fun out of it.

The difference this year is that people from minorities groups and ONGs were especially offended by the Carnival float in Aalst, Belgium that displayed Jewish people in a mocking fashion with hooked noses and bags of money. The festival also sparked controversy after featuring blackface and marchers in KKK hoods handing out chocolate.

Two Jewish Associations, representing French and Flemish-speaking Jews in Belgium, already issued a complaint to the anti-discrimination watchdog, Unia, against the alleged ‘anti-semitic’ car parade during the Carnival in the Belgian city of Aalst, near Brussels, on Sunday. The Jewish groups also filed complaints against the organizers of the event and local authorities.

The event, which also mocked blackface and the KKK, where people dressed in hoods gave away chocolate also featured the float named ‘Shabbat Year’ which featured stereotypical Orthodox Jews with sidelocks and the traditional headgear. One of the figures had a white rat sitting on its shoulder while smoking a cigar and cheerfully smiling. The figures had as well hooked noses as well as bags of money and golden coins scattered around their feet.

Belgian Jewish organizations, offended at the festival, said they are ‘utterly appaled’ and that despite valuing humour, ‘ some lines cannot be crossed’. Repeating the same narrative for these sort of incident, the groups, hysterically compared the figures to something out of the Nazi era, by stating 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,” telling Flemish and Belgian people how they should live their Carnival and who is or isn’t mockable in European festivals.

Aalst’s mayor, Christoph D’Haese already stood up in defence of this year’s Carnival theme and against the censorship being moved by such groups, defending 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,” he added.

The prop-making team who made the controversial float said its meaning was to represent the rising prices in Belgium and the need to live more frugally, “Everything has become so expensive”, Mathias explained, even before this wave of hysteria broke. The team later added that it wasn’t their intentions to ridicule 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 humour is present in other religions as well,” they told later to local media. The group also said that they alerted the police due to the many threats they were getting in connection to the float.

It’s not the first time Non-Governmental Organizations representing special interests of minorities try to curb the freedom of expression of Europeans in their everyday aspects of life, including in moments of comedy and humour, and it will certainly won’t be the last, as long as their feelings won’t get hurt.

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