Paris and London, 17 March 2019
UNESCO has been urged to remove Aalst from its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre (SWC), following repeated antisemitic displays.
UKLFI is a voluntary association of lawyers combatting anti-Israel and antisemitic activity. The SWC is a global human rights organization researching the Holocaust and hate in a historic and contemporary context and is accredited by UNESCO as an Associate Partner NGO.
The Bureau of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage is meeting on 21 March 2019. UKLFI and SWC have written to its six members, formally requesting them to make the appropriate preparations so that the Committee can take a decision to remove the Aalst Carnival at its plenary meeting in December.
The Carnival at Aalst in Belgium has been recognised on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2010. This year’s carnival on Sunday 3 March 2019 included a float and procession which caricatured orthodox Jewish figures standing on piles of money and diamonds, surrounded by safes and rats.
The Dutch Chief Rabbi, Binyomin Jacobs, described the display as “shocking” and containing “typical, antisemitic caricatures from 1939”. The Atlantic magazine published a photograph of the float alongside one of a strikingly similar depiction of Jews taken in 1936 in Nazi Germany.
The organisers of the Carnival allowed this display despite a severe condemnation by UNESCO’s former Director-General, Irina Bokova, of another antisemitic float at a previous Aalst Carnival, describing it as an “unacceptable act that is an insult to the memory of the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.”
A petition urging the removal of the Carnival from the list, due to this repeated antisemitic conduct, has received over 14,000 signatures.
Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI, commented: “UNESCO should not continue to endorse this repeated violation of its values by retaining the Carnival on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”
Dr. Shimon Samuels, SWC’s Director for International Relations, stated: “The date of the Bureau’s meeting, 21 March, is the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This will be a good opportunity for the members of the Bureau to show that they really mean it. The six Bureau members are: Colombia (Chair), Austria, Palestine, Poland, Philippines, and Zambia,” he concluded.
UPDATE: This request has received the endorsement of the Ambassador of Poland to UNESCO.