Remove hook-nose sign language gesture, Jewish group demands

By Daniel Boffey in Brussels

An organisation representing Jewish communities in Europe are demanding the removal of a “racist and humiliating” depiction of Jews as having large hooked noses from an online dictionary of Flemish sign language.

The portrayal is one of more than 10,000 signs on a visual online guide recognised by the Flemish government as a “knowledge and coordination centre” for sign language in the Flanders region of Belgium.

According to the dictionary, there are three ways to sign the word “Jew”. The term can be represented by stroking over the chin – an action used in British sign language – or by displaying pipe curls with the fingers or gesturing with the finger over the nose.

The dictionary has been recently updated to indicate that the latter two signs have negative connotations but the University of Ghent, which hosts the Flemish sign language centre on its website, is facing calls for the signs’ removal.

Menachem Margolin of the European Jewish Association said: “The one with the hair strands is acceptable, although misleading. The videos using a gesture of a big and crocheted nose to define a Jew are just racist and humiliating for Jews.”

Lisa Rombouts, from the Flemish Sign Language Centre, said a new edition of the dictionary would be published that would “clarify these matters”.

She told De Morgen newspaper: “The gesture in question is probably the oldest variant of that gesture in the dictionary. The video has been on our site for 15 years. We don’t want to delete that, because a dictionary describes the current situation.

“Unfortunately, it has not been possible to completely renew the dictionary in recent years because we only received subsidies for that last year.”

Last month, the sign language dictionary in New Zealand came under criticism for a series of portrayals of minority communities.

Along with the hook-nose gesture for the word Jew, one of the words for representing Chinese people involves tugging at the corner of the eye. Gay is represented by a hand-flop and Samoan by pressing down on your nose.

Such representations were removed from signed television in the UK in 2004, a year after British sign language was adopted as one of the country’s indigenous languages.