Almost immediately following the shooting in Jersey City last week that left four people dead, people began asking “Why?”
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy blamed weak gun control legislation. “Our nation’s gun laws continue to fail us,” he said. Other politicians, such as Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), blamed white supremacy.
It soon became clear, however that anti-Semitism and anti-police sentiment were the likely culprits. And then talk surfaced of a relatively unknown group called the Black Hebrew Israelites.
“We have evidence that both suspects expressed interest in [the Black Hebrew Israelites]. But we have not definitively established any formal links to that organization or to any other group,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
Who exactly are the Black Hebrew Israelites?
The group first made headlines in January when Catholic students from Covington High School were confronted by Black Hebrew Israelite street preachers in Washington, DC. The preachers shouted insults and encouraged an American Indian drum player to approach the students, leading to a hostile confrontation that was widely reported on the news.
In mainstream black culture, many were introduced to the Black Hebrew Israelites following the release of a song by rapper Kedrick Lamar in 2017, in which he says, “I’m not a politician, I’m not ’bout a religion. I’m a Israelite, don’t call me black no mo.”
Black Hebrew Israelites believe they – not Jews – are the true descendants of the ancient Israelites. Thus, they are “chosen,” and, according to their ideology, anyone who isn’t chosen is an “enemy.” Jews and whites are satanic.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a far-left organization that monitors hate groups, Black Hebrew Israelite churches openly endorse black supremacy. Although there is some diversity among the group’s sects, all hold the core belief that white supremacists (which, according to them, includes Jews) have intentionally misled them and caused them to stray from G-d. They believe that at the end of time, those who aren’t chosen will bow to black people and become their servants.
The group is known for street-preaching in hotspots like Times Square, where they hand out literature such as The Thirteenth Tribe, a 1976 book by Arthur Koestler that claims Ashkenazi Jews descend, not from the biblical Israelites, but from the Khazars, a semi-nomadic Turkish people that converted to Judaism in the 8th century.
Black Hebrew Israelites do not believe converting to their version of Judaism is possible. They preach claim Native Americans and blacks are the “real” Jews and cite various verses in the Old and New Testament to make their case.
I contacted several Black Hebrew Israelites on Facebook to learn more about their views. When I asked a Black Hebrew Israelite named Ona Israel Hollins from Indiana how she would describe her group, she said, “We are Haitians, we are Dominicans, we are Haitis. We’re in all four corners of the world. Our Bible tells us that our Creator is going to gather us all together and all that was taken from us will be given back to us, like it was when we left out of Egypt.”
Black Israelites believe in the Christian savior, but they don’t think he was the son of G-d nor do they believe in the Trinity. They eat matzah on Passover and wear a form a tzitzit under their garments. Some of their women make a point of wearing skirts.
The Black Hebrew Israelites I spoke to said they don’t hate Jews. But in the same breath, they said that the Rothchilds and Rockefellers control the world’s banks and that Jews control Hollywood and the media.
“One word to describe [modern-day Jews] is fake,” one Black Hebrew Israelite from Nigeria, Ikechi Yah Shi Uwa, told me.
In the aftermath of the Jersey City shooting, many Black Hebrew Israelite Facebook groups lit up with anger over being associated with the attack. They deny that their ideology had any connection to the shooting. At the same time, they pedal conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the media.
“The moment they said that these people were part of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a red flag went off,” Hollins said. “We don’t do stuff like that.” He added, “We don’t hate Jews. Our only mission here on Earth is to go on all four corners of the world and wake our people up so they can all come back to the Creator. And then he can open up them skies and come and get us.”
Some Black Hebrew Israelites on Facebook even saw some sort of conspiracy in Trump signing a pro-Jewish executive order the day after the shooting.
Imam Alfred Mohammed, a black councilman in Linden, New Jersey, who tries to facilitate peaceful relations between Jews and Muslims, told The Jewish Press, “I think there is too much outward-looking among African-Americans and not enough internal looking.”
He added, “I’ve unfortunately seen [Black Hebrew Israelites] harangue people on the streets. [Their kind of] rhetoric is dangerous. I don’t like that kind of rhetoric where groups single out other people, whether it be Jewish people, Caucasian people, or any group. Individuals are responsible for behavior, not groups. We all have free will and free choice. We should want to follow our better instincts.”