Will the Real Israel Please Stand Up?
They stand on the street corner, shouting at White passersby and preaching a message of hatred. Clad in headscarves, leather tunics, and Star of David necklaces, these are not overzealous cosplayers (costume players). They are one of America’s increasingly visible antisemitic groups: the Black Hebrew Israelites (BHI).
Like many cults, the BHI trace their history to self-proclaimed prophets. These prophets alleged that God told them Black people are the descendants of the biblical Israelites, specifically the “10 lost tribes of Israel.”
The BHI teach that the Jewish people are impostors who dispossess Black people of their true heritage. Some BHI accuse the Jewish people of perpetuating slavery and falsifying the history of the Holocaust. Begun in the 19th century, BHI ideology is now going mainstream.
In December 2019, two BHI attacked a kosher market in New Jersey, killing four people. Prior to the attack, the duo posted antisemitic content on their social media profiles and carefully targeted the kosher market.
The following year, entertainer Nick Cannon was fired by ViacomCBS for making antisemitic, BHI comments on his podcast. He charged Jews with conspiring to control the media, claiming the “illuminati, the Zionists, [and] the Rothschilds” control the world system.
Cannon defended his remarks by saying that Black people “can’t be antisemitic when we are the Semitic people. That’s our birthright.”
Rapper Kanye West has also practiced BHI antisemitism. After being banned from Instagram, whose CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is Jewish, West took to Twitter.
“I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE [sic],” West tweeted in October 2022. “The funny thing is I actually can’t be Anti Semitic because black people are actually Jew [sic].”
Later that month, Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving tweeted a link to the antisemitic film Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America, which alleges dark-skinned people are the true Israelites. It also charges that Jews work together “to oppress and defraud Black people” and that they have fabricated details of the Holocaust to ”conceal their nature and protect their status and power.”
Initially, Irving refused to apologize, stating, “I’m not going to stand down on anything I believe in. I’m only going to get stronger because I’m not alone. I have a whole army around me. . . . I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from.”
The Nets suspended Irving for eight games, and he eventually offered a weak apology. But when he returned to the basketball court in November, hundreds of BHI members marched through New York City to show solidarity with Irving, chanting, “We are the real Jews.”
BHI ideology is nothing new. Many cults, like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and British Israelism, teach that their members are the true Israel. Still, BHI is clearly harming Jewish people.
The belief that BHI, or anyone for that matter, are descendants of the 10 lost tribes of Israel is absurd simply because Israel’s northern tribes were never lost. They were present at King Hezekiah’s Passover celebration (2 Chr. 30:1, 10–11, 25–26; 34:6, 9). Additionally, the New Testament, written more than 600 years after the Assyrian Captivity, identifies Anna as a member of the tribe of Asher (Lk. 2:36) and refers to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad” (Jas. 1:1).
In truth, BHI is built on a lie that manifests Satan’s battle against God and His Chosen People. Instead of railing against the Jewish people and spreading hatred, BHI, like all people, should seek to be reconciled to God through Israel’s Messiah in whom there “is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).