The Forum of Jewish Organizations (FJO) and the Coordination Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium (CCOJB) have lodged a complaint with the “anti-racist” organization Unia and the Belgian authorities over a float in the traditional Lent parade in the town of Aalst which depicted Jews sitting on bags of money as being behind inflation and the high cost of living.
According to a statement issued by the two Jewish organizations, the float, titled ““Shabbat Year 2019” took part in the annual Carnival Procession in Aalst on March 3, 2019.
“The caricatures such as those of Der Sturmer of Jews with a crooked nose and suitcases are typical of the Nazism of 1939. In a democratic country like Belgium this has no place in 2019, carnival or not,” the Jewish statement said, adding that they “accept humor, but there are limits that cannot be exceeded.”
The FJO and the CCOJB “will take steps together with the responsible authorities to agree on concrete agreements for the future,” the statement, signed by Regina Suchowolski-Sluszny, chairman FJO, and Yohan Benizri, chairman CCOJB, ended.
The float, created by well-known group Vismooil’n—which specialize in creating hyper-realistic puppets for the annual carnivals—created the two Jew puppets as their 2019 theme for the Aalst carnival, the local edition of celebrations that take place throughout parts of Europe and Latin America annually in anticipation of Lent, the 40-day period before Easter.
The display features two giant Jewish-looking puppets, complete with sidelocks and streimels, the large and bizarre-looking hats used by Orthodox Jews, in pink suits.
One of the puppets is grinning while smoking a cigar and extending a hand, presumably to collect money. That puppet has a white rat on his right shoulder. Both puppets are standing on gold coins and have money bags at their feet.
In the background is a round window reminiscent of the architecture of many European synagogues and a small box resembling a Jewish prayer box, (a “mezuzah”) on its right-hand side.
“Everything has become so expensive [we thought that] if we do 2019, there would be no more money left for next year,” a member of the group was quoted as saying. “So we all went quiet until we smartly decided to go for the Shabbat Year and that was that. So simple.”
“We came up with the idea to put Jews on our float. Not to make the faith ridiculous, as the carnival is simply a caricature feast. We thought it was comical, as pink Jews, with a safe where we stored our saved money.,” the Vismooil’n group said.
In response to the move by the Jewish organizations, Vismooil’n in turn turned lodged a complaint with the police regarding the threats sent to the group via social media from Jews.
Aalst Mayor Christoph D’Haese, from the conservative New Flemish Alliance party, backed the right of Vismooil’n to make the float. “This is possible with the carnival in Aalst, and it is not up to the mayor to ban anything,” he said, adding that the group “had no intention to hurt anyone’s feelings.