Black Hebrew Israelites
“”They're the black counterparts of us.
|—Tom Metzger, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard|
|Preach to the choir|
|Crux of the matter|
|Speak of the devil|
|An act of faith|
Black Hebrew Israelism is an Afrocentric religious belief most popular in the USA, which claims that black people are the descendants of the ancient Israelites of the Bible. They are not to be confused with the various indigenous Jewish sects of Africa, such as the Beta Israel of Ethiopia or Sephardim of North Africa. Those groups go back centuries whereas "black Hebrews" are a recent American invention.
This belief is essentially a mirror image of British Israelism, and just as stupid in that regard. The more extreme adherents of Black Hebrew Israelism venture into black supremacy, racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism, essentially acting as a black version of the white Christian Identity movement. While the anti-Semitism, which includes claims that whites and Jews are the spawn of the Devil, and that white people will be slaves in the Kingdom of Heaven, may seem particularly odd, it parallels the Christian Identity claims about current Jews not being real Jews with one "explanation" invoking the Khazar myth.
Yahweh Bin Yahweh is an example of one such extremist — back in the early 1990s, members of his "Nation of Yahweh" sect were charged and convicted of murder as he used the killing of white people as one of his cult's initiation rites. Yahweh served eight years on a conspiracy to murder charge. Sympathizers of Black Hebrew Israelites philosophy have also been linked to other violent incidents, such as the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.'s mother in June 1974, and the 2019 Jersey City shooting.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dozens of Black Hebrew Israelite organizations were established, mostly in New York City, which continues to host the largest concentration of them, though there are congregations scattered across North America. While a lot of groups have beliefs similar to followers of Messianic Judaism (which is considered a branch of Christianity, not Judaism), such as Jesus's status as God, Son of God and Messiah, a few practice non-racist beliefs in line with mainstream Judaism.
Like many practitioners of woo in the 21st century, the more extreme side of the Black Hebrew Israelites have embraced promoting their conspiracy theories online. Thus, the sect has attracted media attention (often focused on the virulent anti-Semitism) when a high-profile conspiracy-minded celebrity discovers Black Hebrew Israelite woo and starts promoting it. One example of this is NBA basketball star Kyrie Irving. In October 2022, Irving discovered and tweeted out a link to a low-budget, homemade, Black Hebrew Israelite oriented film online called Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America. This film contained extensive antisemitic tropes, including international Jewish conspiracy theory nonsense, Holocaust denial, and quotes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. When confronted with the film's ugly untruths, Irving refused to apologize. This resulted in a suspension from his NBA team and a termination of his contract with athletic shoe manufacturer Nike. Also around the same time, Kanye West started spouting large amounts of anti-Semitic banter, some of which seemed inspired by Black Hebrew Israelites woo. West's antisemitic rhetoric actually continued escalating in subsequent months. This also resulted in considerable fallout with West's business partners.
In the State of Israel
One of these minority groups, the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, moved to Israel, and today their descendants number around 2,500 there. They are mostly near Dimona and Arad in the south of the country.
Their presence in Israel is controversial. While some of them may go round saying that they are the only true Jews/Hebrews, this is not actually that unusual in that country - since some ultraorthodox Jewish sects do much the same.
The Israeli government was, at first, extremely annoyed by their presence and made many attempts to deport them. In 1990, the Israeli government gave them legal status, in 2003 they were granted permanent residency status, and since then they have grown more settled.
Today they are famous in Israel for their gospel choir, and they own several soul food restaurants in many Israeli cities. Some African Hebrew Israelites have been granted citizenship and serve in the IDF, and one was even chosen to represent Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006. Their community is something of a tourist attraction now,[note 1] and are famous for their arts and crafts.
In 2021, deportations of 46 families began again, although it is not entirely clear who was to remain and who was to go. There has been much debate in mainstream Zionist circles as to whether they constitute a Jewish migration to Israel or not. Some have entered more mainstream forms of Judaism since.
A pro-African blog responded to and refuted the statements by the Black Hebrew Israelites. A Christian website also refuted the claims made, relying largely on pointing out how the statements of the racist group do not make Biblical sense.
- Nation of Islam, while not a "Black Hebrew Israelite" organization per se, does share a few beliefs, such as anti-Semitism and white people being the children of the devil
- Rastafarianism, another Afrocentric religion
- Ten Lost Tribes, a key part of the "Black Hebrew Israelite" movement
- Although it would be strange if the Israeli government wanted a whole load of tourists near their main nuclear weapons facility in Dimona.
- Racist Black Hebrew Israelites Becoming More Militant (August 29, 2008) Southern Poverty Law Center.
- Radical Hebrew Israelites Southern Poverty Law Center.
- "The Pastor, the Pandemic, and the Political Race of a Lifetime" by Tessa Stuart, Rolling Stone, 2020 December 31
- "Suspect in Jersey City Linked to Black Hebrew Israelite Group" by Michael Gold and Ali Watkins, New York Times, 2019 December 12
- Chireau, Yvonne (2000). "Black Culture and Black Zion: African American Religious Encounters with Judaism, 1790–1930, an Overview". In Yvonne Patricia Chireau, Nathaniel Deutsch, eds.. Black Zion: African American Religious Encounters with Judaism. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-511257-1.
- "Hebrews to Negroes: What You Need to Know", ADL, 2022 November 3
- "What to Know About Irving’s Antisemitic Movie Post and the Fallout" By Tania Ganguli and Sopan Deb, New York Times, 2022 November 21
- "Kyrie Irving's partnership with Nike is officially terminated" by Matt Adams, NPR, 2022 December 5
- "Blacks and Jews, Again" by Michael Eric Dyson, New York Times, 2022 November 20
- "Ye says 'I see good things about Hitler' on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' show" by Andrew Limbong, NPR, 2022 December 2
- "A complete timeline of Kanye West's antisemitism fallout" by Brendan Morrow, The Week, 2022 December 2
- Minority Communities in Israel: Black Hebrews Jewish Virtual Library.
- Palti, Michal (May 29, 2003). "Whitney does Dimona". Haaretz. Retrieved 2015-11-04.
- African Hebrews say dozens set to be deported from Israel by Ilan Ben Zion (27 April 2021, 12:12 am) The Times of Israel.
- The Hebrew Israelites Debunked by Dwayne Wong (Omowale) Restoring the African Mind (Personal blog)
- Pastor G. Reckart. "A critique of the racist claims of the Black Hebrew Israelites and other Black racists". Tampa, Florida.