UNESCO drops Belgian parade from heritage list over anti-Semitism charges


(JTA) — UNESCO voted unanimously on Friday to delist as a heritage event an annual Belgian parade over allegations of anti-Semitism.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization scrapped the Aalst Carnival, which this year featured effigies of grinning Jews holding money with a rat on one of their shoulders, from the agency’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Its Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage put the parade on the list in 2009 and removed it at Belgium’s request.

The display of Jews at the March carnival prompted an outcry from Jewish groups and UNESCO itself, which in a statement called it “racist and anti-Semitic.”

The float’s defenders argued in response that it was part of the carnival’s tradition of edgy humor, with themes mocking all religions and creeds. Carnival organizers prepared ribbons with caricatures of Jews for the 2020 edition, which they said were meant to mock UNESCO.

Aalst Mayor Christoph D’Haese last month announced that his city, which is located nearly 20 miles northwest of Brussels, would like to withdraw from the list to be able to preserve its traditions, though his statement had no formal status or recourse with UNESCO.

The International Movement for Peace and Coexistence, a group that has been at the forefront of protest actions against the Aalst parade, said it was satisfied with the delisting.

“We hope that delisting will change hearts and minds, and that the kind of displays that have discredited the Aalst carnival will never be seen again, in Belgium, or anywhere else,” Nigel Goodrich, a spokesman for the group, wrote in a statement.

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