The Flemish town of Aalst, Belgium has come under increased scrutiny over the past few years over their graphic and overt anti-Semitic depictions of Orthodox Jews in their annual parade. In February 2019, a parade float depicting Jews, with common anti-Semitic tropes, appeared in the 3-day parade and was thoroughly condemned by individuals and organizations such as Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, as well as UNESCO. UNESCO, who, after adding the carnival as a World Heritage Site in 2010, took it down as one in 2019 following the world-wide outcries and as the town of Aalst asked for its removal from UNESCO in December of 2019. Aalst’s mayor’s spokesperson, Peter Van den Bossche, stated, “‘It’s our parade, our humour, people can do whatever they want,’ he said. ‘It’s a weekend of freedom of speech.'” (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-51612541)
The depiction did not stop, however, as in February 2020 the annual parade continued the tropes with an artistic depiction connotating Jews as ants. With an anti-Semitic depiction of the Western Wall or Wailing Wall, as “de klaugmier”, Dutch for “wailing ant”, the town has continued the horrific trend. Furthermore, there were individuals walking around in mock Nazi SS uniforms even though 25,000 Jews were deported from Belgium to Auschwitz death-camp, alone, during the Shoah, otherwise known as The Holocaust, in which many did not survive.
While the action is protected under Belgium’s Constitution in Article 19, granting freedom of speech, the depiction follows an alarming trend found within Europe. According to multiple sources including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Human Rights Watch, and the New York Times, anti-Semitic acts including hate speech, vandalism, and violence targeted towards Jews has increased dramatically since 2017, alone. Jewish perception of anti-Semitism is also on the rise, with nearly 89% of European Jews holding the perception that anti-Semitism is an increasing threat. With the investigation into the Labour Party of the U.K. Parliament, and increased anti-Semitic attacks in France and Germany, the trend seems to be only increasing. (https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/04/alarming-rise-anti-semitism-europe) With the graphic, unapologetic depiction towards the vilification of the Jewish People, beginning in 2019 and seeming to show no chance of stopping following the end of COVID-19 regulations, it appears that not only is anti-Semitism growing in reality, but also, apparently, in popularity.