Hundreds of followers of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement marched through New York City on Monday in support of basketball player Kyrie Irving, who returned from suspension after he had shared a link on social media to a documentary that advocates BHI theological claims that people of African descent are the real Jews.
Purple-uniformed BHI adherents chanted, “We are the real Jews” and “Time to wake up,” according to a video shared by Creative Community for Peace director Ari Ingel.
Black Hebrew Israelites out in force today, chanting “we are the real Jews” and “time to wake up,” as they marched towards the Barclay’s Center in support of Kyrie Irving’s return. pic.twitter.com/hUPbbHlsBg— Ari Ingel (@OGAride) November 21, 2022
ESPN claimed that the men were members of Israel United in Christ. Another video shared by the popular Twitter account NBA Central showed the Black Hebrews lined up outside the stadium in which Irving’s first game since his suspension was to be played.
"We are the real Jews."Black Hebrew Israelite marchers
Black Hebrew Israelite pamphlets
The Jerusalem Post obtained a pair of flyers distributed by BHI movement followers outside the stadium.
“The truth about slavery,” read one flyer. “The so-called Blacks and Hispanics are ‘the 12 tribes of Israel!’ You are the children of the slave trade!”
The flyer cited biblical passages warning the Jewish people that if they did not heed the Torah, they would be enslaved and placed in yokes of iron. The flyer pointed to that very practice being inflicted on the victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade as proof of their identity.
A second flyer claimed to impart the “truth about antisemitism,” casting Jews as Amalek, who conspired to hide the “true identity of the Israelites and would work to prevent them from waking up in the last days.”
“There is a widely recognized pattern of enslavement, systemic oppression, bullying, legal manipulation and anti-black political lobbying, including silencing black voices in media outlets worldwide,” the pamphlet continued. “The biblical Israelites are targeted and accused of hate day and night without rest. Our knowledge of our heritage and laws has been systematically removed from us through the monstrous holocaust known as the trans-Atlantic slave trade. They may lie to the world and deny us of our birthright, yet Jesus the Christ, our Black Messiah, confirms the truth of who we are. We are not antisemitic, we are Semitic.”
“‘Not the real Jews’ perpetuates antisemitism”
The American Jewish Committee said in a statment, “Black Hebrew Israelites chanting ‘We are the real Jews’ is a troubling antisemitic trope with dangerous potential. We cannot allow this supremacist ideology to spread and gain greater acceptance. Claiming Jewish people are ‘not the real Jews’ perpetuates antisemitism around the world.”
AJC’s Avi Mayer described the BHI chants as being another side “of the same antisemitic coin” of the white supremacist “Jews will not replace us” chant.
Black Hebrew Israelite beliefs
BHI beliefs have recently drawn attention with the scandals surrounding Irving and American rapper Kanye West.
Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America, the book series adapted into the documentary of the same name shared by Irving in late October, argues in favor of the BHI Jewish replacement theory. Irving was suspended by his team, the Brooklyn Nets, on November 3 in response to the athlete refusing to apologize.
The series became a bestseller on Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble’s online stores. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the series features passages from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and a quote falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler declaring black Americans to be the true Jews.
West, who has legally changed his name to Ye, has also professed belief in black Americans as Jews. However, he has included Jews as another branch of the same nation, rather than impostors.
“The funny thing is, I actually can’t be antisemitic because black people are actually Jew [sic] also,” West explained at the end of a tweet in which he warned that he would go “death con 3 [sic] on Jewish people.”
In a statement, AJC director of black-Jewish relations Dov Wilker said it was “important not to generalize when it comes to Hebrew Israelites. Radical Hebrew Israelites are grouped under the Israelite umbrella that cites antisemitic conspiracy theories to explain the slave trade and preach misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia and antisemitism. But not all Hebrew Israelites are Black and not all are radical.”
Erica Schachne contributed to this report.