The online Flemish dictionary of sign language demonstrates three ways to sign the word “Jew,” each with negative connotations.
Tuesday, following the discovery by a Jewish family that the University of Ghent in Belgium represents Jews in its online Flemish Sign Language dictionary with a hooked-nose gesture, Israel’s embassy in Belgium condemned the video.
“The Embassy of #Israel expresses its shock and dismay following the ugly initiative of creating a new sign in Flemish sign language for ‘Jew’: a hooked nose,” Emmanuel Nahshon, Israel’s ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg and former Foreign Ministry spokesperson, posted on Twitter, “Its sole purpose is the promotion of #AntiSemitic stereotypes.”
On Monday, the European Jewish Association’s director Menachem Margolin sent a letter to the rector of the University of Ghent in protest and demanded that clips with the offensive gesture be removed.
The Flemish Sign Language dictionary includes five videos depicting signs for “Jews.” These include Jews represented by the stroking of an imaginary beard, a widely used sign in many countries as religious Jewish men often have beards as per the biblical dictate not to shave the corners of one’s face and putting one’s finger down the sides of the ears to imply side-locks (payote), as well as the hooked nose gesture. The dictionary does note that the payote and hooked nose signs carry a negative connotation.
Margolin wrote that symbols for Jews, such as “stroking a beard” was “standard” while putting one’s finger down the side of the ears to imply side-locks was “borderline acceptable if misleading.” However, the hooked nose gesture was “simply racist and demeaning to Jews.”
“If the aim of this project was to embellish or add to the standard definition, it has certainly managed to so, in the most stereotypical and racist way imaginable, by focusing on side-locks and worse still gesticulating a hooked nose to describe a Jew,” he wrote.
Contemporary sign language has developed over the past 400 years with symbols varying from country to country. Efforts continue to be made to elimination racist and demeaning gestures, replacing them with more neutral symbols.
Positive signs for Jews are possible. For example, the Turkish place a cupped hand on their head to represent a skullcap and Brazilian Portuguese uses a triangle made with fingers against one’s chest, first upside down and then right-side up, to symbolize the Jewish star.
Lisa Rombouts, from the Flemish Sign Language Center, said a new edition of the dictionary would be published that would “clarify these matters.” according to The Guardian.
“The gesture in question is probably the oldest variant of that gesture in the dictionary,” Rombouts told De Morgen Flemish newspaper: “The video has been on our site for 15 years. We don’t want to delete that, because a dictionary describes the current situation.”