Ripped from the pages of Der Stürmer: UN Heritage parade in Beligum features nasty anti-Semitic tropes

March 6, 2019 • 12:30 pm

UPDATE: For more defense of the float, and a wave of antisemitic comments defending it, see here.


Nobody can argue that the float shown below (and past actions of participants in this parade) are simply disagreeing with the policies of Israel. No, this is undiluted and classic anti-Semitism—though the perpetrators, in the fashion of Ilhan Omar, deny it. And it took place recently in Belgium, for crying out loud, a country where I’m supposed to be lecturing in a month—a country that’s supposed to be sensible, liberal and (so I thought) not infected with anti-Semitism.

Worse, the Carnival at Aalst parade, as always, is sponsored and promoted by the United Nations. And as far as I can determine, it’s funded by the UN through UNESCO, though I’d be glad to hear otherwise. Its UNESCO sponsorship, though, is not in doubt.

What happened is that this year the parade harbored about as anti-Semitic a float as you can construct, a float depicting hook-nosed Orthodox Jews with rats on their shoulders, gloating over bags of money and gold coins. And this kind of trope, which could have appeared in Der Stürmer 80 years ago, isn’t the first one to appear in this parade (see below).

There are three articles about the incident lest you’re the kind of person who questions the credibility of the first one because it’s from a Jewish source. 

Here’s the same report from the Brussels Times:

What about the BBC? Here:

The float:

(from the Brussels Times): The antisemitic float was paraded through the annual carnival parade in Aalst. The orthodox Jews stand amongst money bags, coins and gold bars. On the shoulder a rat can be seen.

Here’s a video (another one is here):

But no, it’s not anti-Semitic, not at all! Here’s the perfectly innocuous explanation:

Belgian media report that the group behind the controversial float, De Vismooil’n, went to the police after it received death threats over the float.

The group were economising on a so-called “sabbatical year” – saving money on their float in this year’s parade to invest more heavily in the following year, members told Belgian news outlet HLN.

“We came up with the idea to put Jews on our float. Not to make the faith ridiculous – carnival is simply a festival of caricature,” they said.

“We found it comical to have pink Jews in the procession with a safe to keep the money we saved. You can have a laugh with other religions too,” they told HLN.

The newspaper also quoted the town’s mayor, Christoph D’Haese, as saying the group “had no offensive intentions”.

Really comical, those pink Jews with their rats and money! How comical would it be in the U.S. to have a float with blacks with big lips, eating watermelon and fried chicken? Answer: NOT COMICAL! And to have the town’s mayor defending this travesty is beyond belief.

More excuses reported by WIN:

“In [our city], it should be allowed,” declared Christoph D’Haese, the mayor of Aalst, a Belgian city thrust into the spotlight after a recent parade included bulbous-nosed Jewish puppets standing on money bags, marchers dressed in Klu Klux Klan costumes, and young Europeans donning blackface makeup.

JTA reported that a carnival spokesperson claimed the float represented commentary on how “everything has become so expensive.”

What a clever way to comment on inflation!

Now the Carnival at  AAlst has been declared by UNESCO, a branch of the UN, as an “Intangible cultural heritage”. One Israeli news source says it’s even “funded by UNESCO”, but I’ll seek further confirmation. The UN has historically treated Israel much worse than any other country, passing resolution after resolution against it while ignoring countries, like North Korea, who are far worse in repressing their people and committing war crimes. I wouldn’t want to think that the UN is turning a blind eye to this kind of bigoted nonsense.

The sad thing is that this isn’t first time that the parade has featured horrific anti-Semitic floats. As the Wikipedia article notes, there was a previous incident, and although UNESCO protested, it didn’t stop a recurrence.

In recent years, the parade has been marked by several floats and puppets with stereotypically antisemitic and racist imagery. In 2013, a group had members who dressed up in SS-uniforms and paraded around with cans marked Zyklon B, which led to a furious protest by UNESCO. In 2019, one float featured two huge puppets resembling orthodox Jews, one with a rat on his shoulder, sitting on bags of money and gold coins.

From another source:

Past entrants in the parade have included a float modeled after a Nazi train car used to deliver Jews to death camps, which was surrounded by members of the float’s sponsor dressed as both Nazi SS officers and ultra-Orthodox Jews, according to JTA. Other imagery on the float included canisters labeled “Zyklon B,” the gas Nazis used to murder Jews during the Holocaust.

Really cute!

When will this stop? When politicians, supported by the Western Left, take a serious stand against anti-Semitism—as serious a stand as they take against “Islamophobic” bigotry against Muslims. In the meantime, European countries like England and France become more and more anti-Semitic, to the extent that Jews are starting to flee from them. Are Belgian Jews about to join this exodus? My friends in Belgium, old and soon to be made, please protest this bigotry.


82 thoughts on “Ripped from the pages of Der Stürmer: UN Heritage parade in Beligum features nasty anti-Semitic tropes

    1. Which our host frequently criticises for impairing free speech.

      Can’t have it both ways.


      1. No, but given that Belgium *has* hate speech laws they should apply equally to antisemitic hate speech. Whether hate speech laws are a good idea is a different question.

    1. They have a Facebook page (I think that’s them) but I ain’t joining FB just to see their page.

  1. Odd that the media haven’t shown pictures of the float carrying bearded, turbaned figures wearing suicide vests; or come to that the one carrying a caricature of King Leopold slaughtering millions of Congolese slaves. Oh, wait…

    1. As a thirteen-year-old reading my ancient world history textbook, I wondered how Leopoldville got its name. Funny, no specific mention of colonization and slaughter.

  2. “When will this stop? When (will) politicians, supported by the Western Left, take a serious stand against anti-Semitism—as serious a stand as they take against “Islamophobic” bigotry against Muslims.”

    I am struggling to see why it is the “Western Left” who are singled out as insufficiently critical in this case. This appears to be a racist, far-right/populist ‘tradition’ in this particular parade. Why exactly is this story being framed as an issue with the left, never mind liberals? In the sources, I see nothing but Belgian liberals condemning this revolting racism.

  3. This has made me violently ill today; I lived in Germany as a graduate student 1976-1978 and something like this would not have happened anywhere in Europe. What the hell is going on in the minds of these people?

  4. This is grotesque. Sickening.

    This from their constitution, which I haven’t read, but they use this as their inspirational motto:

    “Since wars begin in the minds of men and women, it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace must be constructed.” Well, seems like there are a lot of sick minds in Belgium.

    I’m going to protest to the head of UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage committee, their rapporteur, and any other person or group that seems relevant.

    BTW, Deborah Lipstadt was on NPR’s “Morning Edition” today, addressing the matter of criticism of Israel and antisemitism

  5. It’s chilling how matter of fact the BBC and others report on this.

    There has been very little American coverage of it.

  6. Time to bring back that once popular medieval sport of cat burning…. Wiki: the assembled people “shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized”
    on a float and some dancing as well.
    Disregarding and trivializing the memory of millions who were gassed, murdered by the Nazis without a concience, cat burning it seems will be a popular float for the Carnival at Aalst parade, FB and instagram.
    “Carnival is simply a festival of caricature” of a larger than life antisemitism veiw we hold for “fun” and “entertainment” apart from that we “had no offensive intentions”.

  7. I couldn’t but think of Oberammergau and found this quite telling article that distills a report from a British newspaper in 1933 expressing fears that Hitler will use it to exploit antisemitism

    There are some ominously ludicrous quotes from the Bavarians, such as “Herr Stuckl, guardian of the Passion Play Theatre and depicter of the ‘Public Prosecutor’ of the Jews, the Priest Nathaniel, said: ‘We shall none of us feel the least reluctance to play our Jewish roles. Our Judas is as fine a Christian man in real life as we have in our village. No, no; I am a good German, and I believe something like what is happening now in Germany was inevitable. The Nazis will be inclined to help forward this 300-year-old tradition of our village.'”

  8. I accept that the float (and others) were deplorable and in the worst of bad taste. I wouldn’t want to see them on my streets.

    But. Were any laws broken? Was any immediate violence incited? If not then it was an example of free speech.

    The whole point of free speech is that others may say things that outrage you *unless* they break the law in some way.

    1. That’s what I was thinking – isn’t this group just expressing themselves, as hateful as it might be?

      This site celebrates freedom of speech, so to be consistent, shouldn’t the De Vismooil’n group be allowed to have their float in the parade? They didn’t refer to a specific orthodox Jew by name, nor threaten a specific Jew or group of Jews with violence.

      In their minds, they’re just having a bit of fun.

      1. Just because it is their right and not against the law for them to have the float, it doesn’t mean people who support free speech are not allowed to get angry about it.

        It also doesn’t mean that Jerry and others can’t petition the organisation that sponsors the parade to stop giving them money.

    2. That’s what I was thinking – they didn’t threaten violence towards any specific Jews.
      In their minds, they were just having a bit of fun.

    3. Doesn’t supporting free speech mean that we wouldn’t throw the makers of this anti-semitic float in jail? It is perfectly ok to criticize the float, its message and its makers. It is also perfectly ok to wonder whether the city wants this kind of idea representing them. I find the whole thing disgusting but I wouldn’t want to see them thrown in jail for it. Not that they don’t deserve punishment but I wouldn’t want a criminal justice system deciding what is good speech and what is bad speech.

    4. It is not a question of free speech. It is a question of why such hate speech should be platformed by the city of Aalst at a carnival endorsed by UNESCO.

      1. That’s really a distinction without a difference. Our host has commented frequently on ‘hate speech’ laws that impinge on ‘free speech’.

        Aalst/UNESCO puts on the parade. Could it or should it censor what individual floats say?


        1. “Aalst/UNESCO puts on the parade. Could it or should it censor what individual floats say?”

          If they have laws/rules against such things, but only enforce them when they target certain groups while allowing the laws/rules to be flouted when it comes to other groups, then it is perfectly legitimate to bring this up and not at all incongruent to point out that hate speech laws are a bad idea.

          It also isn’t incongruent to say that UNESCO/the UN should not be supporting speech against Jews that it would not support against certain other groups.

          1. If they have hate speech laws then they should enforce them equally, yes.

            If (PCC’s view and yours?) hate speech laws are a bad idea and should be done away with, how then would you propose to stop this float?

            I suspect UNESCO’s support of the parade is just a tiny part of their general mission to promote culture and traditions and (I suspect) they would much prefer to keep at arms length from the content of the parade. They don’t want to be telling people what they can say. It’s NOT a “UN Heritage parade” as this page would have it – yet another misleading click-bait headline. It’s a traditional parade supported by a UN agency.


            1. I don’t think UNESCO should support such culture and traditions. If it does, it becomes a useless organization, or worse.

              Otherwise, I am all for free speech, so let’s let these merry folks parade their views to announce how low Europe has sunk.

        2. Yes, they could and should censor. I envy the float’s organizers, because in my half-century long life nobody has, ever, given me money unconditionally!

    1. Well, this is not true. There are efforts by citizens and also meat producers in Belgium to ban the slaughter of animals without them being stunned.

      But I agree that what happened in Aalst is unforgivable, and a sign of utter stupidity and ignorance, typical of some provincial towns. I remember that around 1960, when the American Defense Department released, for the first time, footage of films made by American troops entering the concentration camps in Germany in 1945, we were shown this footage, showing mountains of corpses, emaciated prisoners, etc. in high school (this was in Belgium). The German television also showed these films, causing quite a shock among the population.

      The current youth has forgotten history. I believe that watching this American footage should be part of the history curriculum in history classes.

      1. Kosher and halal are both arguably cruelty to animals and I’m surprised Western countries permit it. Another case of religion getting a pass.


        1. I think governments should not police humans on behalf of animals. This is a slippery slope. Tomorrow, someone will decide that killing animals for food is cruelty.

          1. “I think governments should not police humans on behalf of animals. This is a slippery slope. Tomorrow, someone will decide that killing animals for food is cruelty.”

            Well, I’m afraid you’ve lost that one. Most ‘civilised’ countries have laws against mistreating animals, and almost every country condemns whale hunting (except of course Japan). So as with every slippery slope, it’s a matter of where you draw the line.

            Would you be okay if I set a cat on fire in your back garden?


            1. You are right that we have lost that one, for the moment. However, I hope that after enough people are eaten alive by stray dogs, and after Third World countries surpass former leaders in science thanks to retaining the legal option to experiment on animals, the tide will turn.

              If you set a cat on fire in my back garden, you will cause ME emotional distress.

  9. I’m of the mind that free speech not only entails the right of one to express offensive speech, but also the right of people to criticize it. I don’t think one can have free speech without this reflexive operant.

    I can allow some noxious views to be expressed but that doesn’t mean that I have to shut up and not criticize anybody who says something offensive or expresses the same sentiment in visual or performing arts.

    1. Absolutely. So many people get it wrong. A “Right to Free Speech” (in the US at least) is a prohibition against the government passing laws that limit or punish speech. What it does NOT mean is that we, as citizens, should simply shrug off offensive and dangerous speech, speech that is likely to undermine society and community. If we as citizens deserve this “Right,” we must understand that it comes with a responsibility to fight against dangerous speech, with our words, and actions. We cannot legislate against such people, but we can speak against them, not allow them in our homes, shun them, and treat them as the social outcasts they ought to be. And we can educate their children. To simply shrug your shoulders and say “Hey, what can I do? They have the right to free speech.” is cowardly and dangerous. Don’t jail them for their speech, but create a community and social atmosphere that is so caustic to ideas like theirs that nobody would dare to produce a float like that again.

      That’s why the mayor of Aalst’s reaction reported in the news is so depressing and dangerous — he just shrugged it off, and according to one member of Vismooli’n, even promised to pay any fines the group faced. That’s not leadership, that’s irresponsible, and eventually dangerous behavior.

  10. What has Ilhan Omar to do with this? Your mention of her looks like a nasty attempt at guilt by association.

    1. Yes, I don’t see Ilhan Omar’s sins in the same league as this float. She does seem a bit insensitive though. I have no problem with people pushing back on her to either clean up her language or tell us what she really thinks and take the consequences.

  11. The float is absolutely deplorable, and I would happily see the organisers ban such displays in the future. But, if I recall correctly, our esteemed host has spoken out against hate speech laws in the past and criticised those countries that have them. I’m not a U.S. citizen – would the carnival float breach the First Amendment?

    1. “I’m not a U.S. citizen – would the carnival float breach the First Amendment?”

      No, but Belgium doesn’t have the First Amendment.

      1. Even with the the First Amendment, I cannot imagine a US city-sponsored parade, such as a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade, allowing such a despicable float.

          1. In the US, if a city (the government) is organizing an event, then it becomes difficult to ban speech. But what is most depressing is that the local community did not rise up in disgust at this float — I would have hoped that citizens lining the streets, upon seeing it, would have shouted down the Vismooil’n “singers” on the follow-up truck, dressed identically to the large pink caricatures, with a song written specially for them, with lyrics like “Jews get rich, and Jews get fat” all while patting their tummies. Unreal. Local citizens did nothing, which makes it all more terrifying.

    2. In the US, a parade’s organizers are not required to include participants whose expressed views they do not share. cf.
      Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc. (1995)

      1. Thanks for the cite. There is also the Skokie Affair (i.e., in 1977 the american nazi party was allowed to march through a Jewish neighborhood with swastikas and nazi salutes) which suggests the question of what governments can legally ban will ebb and flow over time. What does not change is our duty as citizens to deplore and expose hate speech for what it is.

  12. What’s the story of this De Vismooil’n group?

    I think in the spirit of caricature and satire, they would have made a better and more festive contribution to the parade, while making the point of money saving, by constructing a float with big lipped, big nosed negroes, with big bulging muscles, working on parts of next year’s float in large shiny chains while grinning white people in traditional Belgian clothes flogged them with whips.

  13. The “running of the Jew” scene in the Borat movie was free speech. This is hate speech. There is a difference.

  14. “The UN has historically treated Israel much worse than any other country, passing resolution after resolution against it while ignoring countries, like North Korea, who are far worse in repressing their people and committing war crimes.”

    Which war crimes has North Korea committed recently? I wasn’t aware of any in the last 50 years or so.


    1. Against its own people:

      “On human rights, the international community continued to press for action on the findings of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) that found the government committed crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and forced abortion.”

      1. Yes PCC mentioned that and I wouldn’t dispute it. It must be a horrible place to live.

        I was asking specifically about the ‘war crimes’ because I wasn’t aware of any. And since NK hasn’t been involved in a ‘hot’ war for six decades, there hasn’t been much opportunity; in fact in the intervening period, Israel, Iraq, Britain, the US and almost any other country you care to name will have committed more war crimes than North Korea. Ironic but true.


        1. The origin seems to be lazy medja reportage.

          There’s a few cut/paste brain-in-neutral news medja reports knocking about suggesting NK has committed 10 out 11 war crimes[!], but when I go to these reports they’re talking about the NK prison camps & “crimes against humanity”, which of course don’t depend on there being a war.

          Note that in the above I’m merely reporting, because a little bit of digging brings up no one definitive list of crimes for either, so I’m not able to determine which “war crime” of the “11” NK hasn’t indulged in.

          I even went to the UN & the Hague [no, on the internet] & the relevant UN page is 404 & the Hague site isn’t sensible. Definitions & lists don’t exist I reckon – not one authority on these matters [or there’s none, to be accurate].

  15. Anti-semitism is a long held and proud tradition in Europe, and we should be happy to see it recognized by the UN for the beautiful cultural expression it is. In a time when we are increasingly aware of how important these deeply held celebrations of unique identity are to these colorful and ancient civilizations, how can we, the American colonizers, judge them?

    Or that’s as close to Onionizing it as I can manage. Needs more jargon and fawning though.

  16. “Carnival is simply a festival of caricature” of a larger than life antisemitism view we hold for “fun” and “entertainment” apart from that we “had no offensive intentions”.

    What’s funny about Zyklon B? Jewish caricatures + rats?
    What a lying asshole.

    1. These people happen to be cops & bank managers & the like – well integrated & respected in their community. Aalst is only 10 or so kilometres north west of Brussels & one hundred years ago it seems.

      1. The same sort of decent folks who stood by and said nothing while the Nazis harassed and bullied jews, smashed their storefronts on kristallnacht, and eventually herded them off to their deaths.

  17. On the free-speech question, some of the comments in this discussion are getting things mixed up. If the organizers of the parade decided to not allow inclusion of this kind of vile anti-Semitic display, this would not be a violation of free-speech. A float graphically displaying acts of violent rape would be excluded for obvious reason, same for persons calling for suicide bombing against European “complicity in the war against ISIS.” The creators of these displays would free to find a venue for their exhibition, and no one on this blog is calling for their arrest, or legally preventing them from displaying their ideas.

  18. The review however does not support the idea that it is OK that governments should not police the way animals are slaughtered, and I agree that the Halal way of slaughtering animals should be forbidden. Superstition is no excuse for this practice, as are several other practices, including genital mutilation and the teaching religion as fact to small and school-age children. For example, the teaching of religion in schools is prohibited in Italy, although “private” schools are increasingly doing this.

    1. This was supposed to be a reply to:

      Posted March 7, 2019 at 3:28 pm | Permalink
      Thank you! This is exactly what I am complaining of.

      re a review in the NY Review of Books

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