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How the Pittsburgh shooting compares to attacks on Jews in Europe, where anti-Semitism has been growing

The attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue drew instant comparisons to the situation in Europe. But how similar is it?

The smoke-stained window of Mireille Knoll's apartment can be seen in Paris in March after the elderly Jewish woman was stabbed and left to die in her burning apartment. (Christophe Ena/AP)

PARIS — The killing of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday drew immediate comparisons to the problem of anti-Semitism in contemporary Europe, where violent incidents have claimed the lives of at least 18 Jews in the past decade. A number of anti-Semitic currents are coursing through the Europe of 2018 — across the continent and across the political spectrum. What, if any, are the connections?

Pittsburgh authorities have identified the suspect in the synagogue shooting as Robert D. Bowers, whose social media history indicates he targeted Jews because of a white supremacist worldview. That background matches only one of the strands of anti-Semitism visible now in Europe. It is most apparent in Hungary, where the right-wing populist leader Viktor Orban successfully ran for reelection this year on a platform demonizing the Jewish financier George Soros, whom Orban accused of undermining the country by importing foreign migrants. Ahead of the midterm elections next month, President Trump and his political allies have also begun targeting Soros with increasing frequency, and a particular target of Bowers’s anger was a Jewish refugee resettlement agency. Historical revisionism is often a part of this mind-set. For instance, in Poland, now under the control of the right-wing Law and Justice party, the government attempted this year to pass a law that would have criminalized speech about Polish collaboration in the Nazi Holocaust; the legislation was withdrawn after an international backlash.

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But contemporary European anti-Semitism is by no means the exclusive province of the political right. It has also seen a resurgence recently on the left, mostly via recycled caricatures that depict Jews as greedy capitalists or that present all Jews as colonial overlords of the Palestinians. Notably, Britain’s Labour Party, led by left-winger Jeremy Corbyn, has come under fire for not dealing more decisively with accusations of anti-Semitism among some members. Britain’s Jewish community has spoken out against Labour leaders, and anti-Semitic incidents in Britain have soared to a near-record high in 2018.

In general, it’s difficult to ascribe a common narrative to all the anti-Semitic violence in Europe seen in recent years, and crimes have been perpetrated by people with various motivations. In France, in particular, where the vast majority of Europe’s recent anti-Semitic killings have occurred, most suspects have come from immigrant backgrounds, and a number have been affiliated with Islamist terrorist networks. France happens to be home to Europe’s largest Jewish and Arab populations, and some incidents have seen the Arab-Israeli conflict translated into a domestic political context. On a very broad level, recent cases — in France but also in Germany — have led many political leaders to worry whether the same countries that facilitated the Holocaust could again find themselves susceptible to anti-Semitism, this time of an “imported” variety.

Here is a list of some of the cases of violent anti-Semitism that have occurred in Europe in the past 10 years.

2012: Toulouse, France

Four Jews were shot and killed at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school outside Toulouse in southern France. The victims included Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, 30, and two of his children: Aryeh Sandler, 6, and Gabriel Sandler, 3. Miriam Monsonego, an 8-year-old student, also was killed. French authorities identified the perpetrator as 23-year-old Mohammed Merah, who had a record of petty crime and was killed three days later in a standoff. Since Merah — a French citizen of Algerian origin — had killed three French police officers in the days before he attacked Ozar Hatorah, the Toulouse attack was widely seen as the beginning of France’s recent struggle with terrorism perpetrated by its own citizens. According to a book published by Merah’s brother, he had been raised in an atmosphere of anti-Semitism, and his hatred of Jews was to some extent a function of his hatred of Israel.

2014: Brussels

Four people were shot and killed in an attack at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels. Two of the victims, Emmanuel and Miriam Riva, were in the city on vacation from their home in Tel Aviv. A French woman, Dominique Sabrier, also was killed, and Alexandre Strens, who worked at the museum, later died of his injuries. The suspect was identified as Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old Franco-Algerian whom authorities apprehended at the Marseille train station several days after the attack. Authorities suspect he had links to an Islamic State terrorist cell.

January 2015: Paris

Days after the attack on the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, four Jews — François-Michel Saada, Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen and Yoav Hattab — were killed in a siege at the Hyper Cacher, a kosher supermarket on the outskirts of Paris. Authorities discovered that the attacker, Amedy Coulibalay, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and had met the two brothers who perpetrated the attack on Charlie Hebdo in a French prison. In the aftermath of the Hyper Cacher attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Paris and urged French Jews to consider leaving France for Israel.

October 2016: Moscow

An armed man carrying a gas canister attempted to enter Moscow’s Choral Synagogue in the city center, a day before Rosh Hashanah services. As he tried to get in, the man struggled with one of the guards. The attacker then shot the guard, who suffered minor injuries. All that is known about the attacker is that he was a 40-year-old man believed by synagogue officials to be an ethnic Russian. The 2016 attack came 10 years after another Moscow attack in which a 20-year-old man identified as Aleksandr Koptsev targeted Moscow’s Chabad Lubavitch synagogue. Koptsev screamed “Heil Hitler!” and “I will kill Jews” as he rampaged through the synagogue’s halls with a hunting knife, eventually stabbing at least eight people, of whom four were seriously injured. He was later described by police and security services as a skinhead belonging to a nationalist right-wing group; the group was unnamed.

April 2017: Paris

During the French presidential election, Sarah Halimi, 65, an Orthodox Jewish woman who lived alone in a Paris public housing project, was beaten to death and thrown out a window. Police identified her neighbor, Kobili Traore, a 27-year-old Malian Muslim, as the suspect, and neighbors interviewed by police said they heard him scream “Allahu akbar” during the attack. In what became a national scandal, the Paris prosecutor initially declined to investigate the crime as a case of anti-Semitic violence, but President Emmanuel Macron formally declared the killing anti-Semitic several months later, in July 2017.

December 2017: Amsterdam

Hours after President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a 29-year-old Palestinian man brandishing a Palestinian flag smashed the windows of the HaCarmel kosher restaurant in a Jewish district of Amsterdam. Dutch television broadcast video of the incident, and the footage shows the man smashing the window and breaking down the door. The incident followed a similar one from 2016, when a stabbing occurred at another Amsterdam kosher eatery; authorities concluded that incident was unrelated to anti-Semitism.

March 2018: Paris

In an episode that resembled the Sarah Halimi case, Mireille Knoll, 85, a Holocaust survivor who also lived in a Paris public housing project, was stabbed 11 times and left to burn in her apartment. Investigators identified her neighbor, Yacine Mihoub, 28, and an accomplice, Alex Carrimbacus, 21, as suspects. This time, authorities immediately included the dimension of anti-Semitism in the investigation, and less than a year after the Halimi case Knoll’s death became a lightning rod that led thousands into the streets of Paris to protest anti-Semitism in France.

April 2018: Berlin

Two men — ages 21 and 24, at least one wearing a skullcap — were assaulted in broad daylight by an attacker who whipped them with a belt in a gentrified Berlin district, Prenzlauer Berg. Three perpetrators appeared to have been involved, according to the victims’ accounts. One of the victims, Adam Armoush, later said that he was not in fact Jewish but had worn a skullcap to prove to a friend that doing so was not a risk in contemporary Germany. “I was saying it’s really safe, and I wanted to prove it, but it ended like that,” Armoush told German TV. The incident became a national scandal, and German leaders weighed in. Chancellor Angela Merkel called the attack “horrible,” and the foreign minister, referring to the country’s Nazi past, said that “Jews shall never again feel threatened here.”

Amie Ferris-Rotman in Moscow contributed to this report.