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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Thursday called on Belgium to scrap this weekend's annual Carnival parade after last year's featured a float with anti-Semitic caricatures.
The carnival in the industrial city of Aalst has its roots in the Middle Ages and often features satirical floats that take shots at local politicians and the wealthy.
“Belgium as a Western Democracy should be ashamed to allow such a vitriolic antisemitic display. I call upon the authorities there to condemn and ban this hateful parade in Aalst,” Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz tweeted.
Last year's festivities featured one float depicting Jews with exaggerated features and side locks standing over bags of money. The caricatures recalled anti-Semitic tropes of the Middle Ages and Nazi Germany.
The carnival had been listed as a UNESCO heritage event until last year, but Aalst renounced the distinction days before the U.N. cultural agency scrapped it over the anti-Semitic incident.
Aalst Mayor Christoph D’Haese said the Israeli foreign minister's call to cancel the festival was “truly disproportional.”
“I absolutely call on people to avoid these sensitive subjects" he said in an interview with the VRT network. “But that is something completely different than the ban which is called for here.”
Aalst is one of Europe’s most famous Carnivals and it is a celebration of unbridled, no-holds-barred humor and satire. Politicians, religious leaders and the rich and famous are relentlessly ridiculed during the three-day festival ahead of Roman Catholic Lent.
UNESCO, Jewish groups and the European Union condemned last year's float as anti-Semitic, with the EU saying it conjured up visions of the 1930s.