Belgian mayor drops UN heritage status to retain carnival that featured big-nosed Jews

Renouncing his town’s Unesco listing, Aalst mayor Christoph D'Haese says it is ‘unavoidable’ that Jews will be ridiculed at next year’s event


A Belgian town has chosen to renounce its place on the UN cultural heritage list rather than restrict a carnival that depicted big-nosed Charedi Jews sitting on piles of money.

Officials in Aalst said they were sick of complaints that the event was antisemitic.

The most recent carnival in March included a float depicting Strictly Orthodox men wearing shtreimel fur hats surrounded by bags of money.

One of the caricatured figures had a white rat resting on its shoulder.

It was criticised by Belgium’s Jewish community and the European Union, which said it conjured up visions of the 1930s.

The city’s mayor Christoph D’Haese, who previously said it was not for him to ban the float, said on Sunday that he planned to renounce Aalst’s recognition from Unesco, the UN’s cultural agency.

Mr D’Haese told the Flemish broadcaster VTM that his officials “have had it a bit with the grotesque complaints and Aalst will renounce its Unesco recognition”.

He added: “It was clear that we had to go, so we kept the honour to ourselves.”

Hans Knoop from the Belgian Forum of Jewish Organisations said the mayor had not cooperated with them in talks on the issue.

He told AP that renouncing Unesco status should not make way for similar floats in the future, adding: “They are not at liberty to spew any more antisemitic dirt. We will keep a close eye on Aalst.”

But Mr D’Haese said it was “unavoidable” that Jews will be ridiculed at the next carnival.

“We are on a very dangerous slippery slope when people will be able to decide what can be laughed at,” he said.

The decision to renounce the heritage status comes the week before a Unesco meeting in Colombia where delegates were due to discuss whether Aalst should remain on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

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