Should Jews Be Worried About the Rise of the Black Hebrew Israelites

The Black Hebrew Israelites, a fringe religion, once again made headlines in the US at the end of 2022. The group is composed of different sects which essentially agree that African Americans are the direct descendants of the Biblical Israelites.

In the latest viral video, the group was marching in support of Kyrie Irving, returning from an eight-game suspension by the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Brooklyn Nets. Irving received his suspension after posting a link to a documentary by a Hebrew Israelite, which is perceived as antisemitic.

The documentary was made in 2018, based on the 2014 book “Hebrews to Negroes - Wake Up Black America” by Ronald Dalton. The documentary “exposes” that blacks are the true Biblical descendants and that the people who call themselves Jews today are imposters. Some more extremist sects depict light-skinned people as “agents of Satan” and are unabashedly homophobic and misogynistic. Some sects are also Holocaust deniers.

Irving has since apologized and tweeted that he embraces all walks of life and wants to learn from all religions. Although he is back to playing ball, he has lost the endorsement of the Nike corporation.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 144 chapters of the BHI on its annual hate group list. According to the Director of the Law Center’s Intelligence Project, Heidi Beirich. “This is a movement that has been growing pretty rapidly in the last three or four years, largely in reaction to Trump and white nationalism. (BHI) have used these developments to recruit into their movement.”

The group made headlines in January 2019 for shouting insults during what was supposed to be a Native American protest in Washington, D.C. Shopkeepers in Philadelphia sued the group in 2013 for its street preaching, which they say intimidated patrons.

Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, who lives in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, has noticed an uptick in the group’s public presence. He told the Jewish Telegraph Agency that there were two demonstrations in November 2022. In a video the Rabbi tweeted, hundreds of Black Hebrew Israelite members can be seen chanting, “Hey Jacob, it's time to wake up. I’ve got good news for you; we are the real Jews.”

Bishop Nathanyel Ben Israel, the demonstrating group’s founder, said, “We are not here for violence. We are here for the spiritual war.”

No reliable polling exists to determine how many members there are but some sources estimate there are well over a million Black Hebrew Israelites in the United States.

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