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For European Jews, a horrifying sight on the other side of the Atlantic

Jewish children slaughtered in school. Jewish customers shot in a kosher supermarket.

© Matt Rourke/AP Personnel from Chesed Shel Emes Emergency Services and Recovery Unit gather near the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

By James McAuley, The Washington Post
PARIS

Jewish children slaughtered in school. Jewish customers shot in a kosher supermarket. Elderly Jewish women beaten in their apartments, then thrown from the window or left to burn.

In recent years, deadly anti-Semitic violence has become a mainstay of European headlines, a troubling reality on the same soil where millions of Jews were systematically murdered less than a century before.

That violence was not mirrored in the United States — until Saturday, when 11 Jews were killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue. The man accused had taken to social media to decry a Jewish refugee resettlement organization several days after President Trump repeated a conspiracy theory with clear anti-Semitic connotations: the belief that the Jewish billionaire George Soros is importing foreign refugees to undermine the country’s putative white, Christian character.

This vision has become a common refrain on the European far right, part of the violent rhetoric that often precedes actual acts of violence. Now, European observers wonder whether Americans will confront the problem of anti-Semitism — and they see in Pittsburgh the dangerous confluence of that rhetoric and a population with easy access to firearms.

“I used to think that the United States is the guarantor of Jewish security worldwide, and now it’s not the case any more,” said Sergey Lagodinsky, a member of the assembly of the Jewish community of Berlin. “From the European Jewish perspective, this haven that we thought the U.S. is for Jews is no more there.”

For Delphine Horvilleur, one of three women rabbis in France and the leader of a popular liberal congregation in Paris, what happened at Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh is a sign of the times, evidence that “no one is immune from this anti-Semitism that traverses history.”

“Americans always remark on security at French synagogues,” said Horvilleur, who completed her rabbinical studies in New York. She was referencing the intense level of pat-downs and even ID checks required to enter many Jewish houses of worship in France, which has suffered the brunt of Europe’s anti-Semitic violence in recent years.

“I think sadly this question is something that will be posed at their own synagogues in the coming years.”

As a point of comparison, almost all recent instances of deadly anti-Semitism in Europe have involved suspects with North African roots, Islamist ties or both. But although the European far-right has recently attempted to court Jewish voters in a bid against Muslims, it has yet to shed the nativist rhetoric.

The Soros conspiracy theory is an example. It has been most prominently on display in Soros’s native Hungary, where Viktor Orban, Hungary’s right-wing, populist prime minister uses the Jewish financier — and Holocaust survivor — as the embodiment of all apparent national ills.

In Orban’s vision, Soros is leading a powerful but mysterious cabal behind the scenes of ordinary operations. It’s a cliche that harks back to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an anti-Semitic book purporting to reveal a plan for Jewish world domination.

“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us,” Orban said at a rally in March. “Not open, but hiding. Not straightforward, but crafty. Not honest, but base. Does not believe in working but speculates with money. Does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.” In mid-April, he was reelected in a landslide.

For European Jews, a striking feature of recent weeks has been witnessing these same tactics deployed by Trump and his political allies, themselves on the cusp of critical midterm elections this week.

This is not new territory for Trump, who closed his 2016 campaign with an advertisement that featured the faces of prominent American Jews such as Soros, Lloyd Blankfein and Janet L. Yellen as examples of “special interests” hostile to the American working class. But in recent weeks, those associations have become more commonplace. Trump has blamed a migrant caravan in Mexico as the work of Soros; Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) likewise said in an interview that he considered protesters at the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings to be paid agents of the New York-based philanthropist.

“There is this merger, this anti-Semitic international, that we’re witnessing now,” said Lagodinsky, referring to the apparent similarities between the rhetoric deployed by Trump and his Eastern European counterparts.

For Deborah E. Lipstadt, an expert on the history of anti-Semitism, the success of these theories in the United States is not necessarily surprising.

“Anti-Semitism is the ultimate conspiracy theory,” she said. “People look to conspiracy theories when they want to explain things they can’t understand, and no one can understand the economic system today. But if you can blame it on George Soros, Lloyd Blankfein or Janet Yellen, it becomes easy to understand.”

To Horvilleur, the French rabbi, said the attack on Pittsburgh was a challenge, but not necessarily an insurmountable one.

“American Judaism, as illustrated for decades, has been marked by ‘tikkun olam,’ the repair of the world,” she said. “That will stay despite the threats against the community.”

james.mcauley@washpost.com

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World News: For European Jews, a horrifying sight on the other side of the Atlantic
For European Jews, a horrifying sight on the other side of the Atlantic
Jewish children slaughtered in school. Jewish customers shot in a kosher supermarket.
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