It was the deadliest assault on Jews in U.S. history. Eleven people gunned down as they attended their local synagogue on Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath. Synagogues across the country locked their doors and an icy fear spread through Jewish communities.
The U.S. is often thought to be the safest country in the world for Jews. The long shadow of the Holocaust still hangs over Europe, where antisemitism flourishes on the far right and parts of the far left. Jews in Israel are permanently on guard against attack.
In the great melting pot of the U.S., it was perhaps easier. In Squirrel Hill, the Pittsburgh neighborhood that is home to the Tree of Life synagogue, local residents have spoken since Saturday’s shooting of harmonious relations between communities.
Last year, however, antisemitic and white supremacist stickers were found on car windscreens, park benches and playground slides. A 2017 study of the city’s Jewish community found that 63% of those in Squirrel Hill were “a little or somewhat” concerned about antisemitism, and 18% were “very much” concerned. Overall in Pittsburgh, 16% of Jews had directly experienced some form of antisemitism in the previous year.
Some blame the rise in hate speech and hate crime on a culture under Donald Trump’s leadership in which people are emboldened to express prejudice and hatred.
They point in particular to the president’s response to the death of a young woman protesting against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. There was blame on both sides, Trump said. “You had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
The number of antisemitic incidents across the U.S. as a whole rose 57% in 2017, according to an audit by the Anti-Defamation League, the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number since the ADL started tracking such data in 1979.
It said the rise was in part the result of a significant increase in the number of incidents in schools and on college campuses, which nearly doubled for the second year in a row.
The ADL also highlighted an increase in antisemitic abuse and harassment on social media in a report this month.
FBI data for 2016, the last year for which figures are available, shows that 54.4% of victims of anti-religious hate crimes were Jewish, and 24.5% were Muslim.
Other countries have also seen rises in antisemitism. The Community Security Trust in the U.K. has logged record levels of antisemitic behavior in the past two years, particularly on social media. “In some cases, social media has been used as a tool for coordinated campaigns of antisemitic harassment, threats and abuse directed at Jewish public figures and other individuals,” its most recent report said.
A global study of antisemitism earlier this year found a fall in the number of acts of violence, attributed to greater security, but a notable rise in harassment and abuse.
It highlighted a strengthening of the extreme right in some European countries, “accompanied by slogans and symbols reminiscent of the 1930s”.
“Expressions of classic traditional antisemitism are back and, for example, the term ‘Jew’ has become a swear word,” it said.
Many synagogues and other places where Jews gather in the U.K. and Europe have security guards, CCTV and searches on entry, and offer training for their staff in dealing with attacks.
That may now become routine in the U.S. In the aftermath of Saturday’s shooting in Pittsburgh, city authorities in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia sent extra patrols to synagogues.
Trump was swift to condemn the Pittsburgh shooting as “an act of pure evil” on Saturday, but an ADL poll last year found that a third of respondents thought the U.S. president held antisemitic views. Almost two-thirds thought he was anti-Muslim, and just over half that he was anti-Latino. A similar percentage thought he was racist.