Hours before another Brooklyn Nets loss on Thursday, noted “free-thinker” and basketball player Kyrie Irving took to Twitter to boost a movie and book, Hebrews to Negroes, stuffed with antisemitic tropes.
The 2018 film was directed by Ronald Dalton, Jr., and based upon his 2015 book of the same name. A description for the film states that it “uncovers the true identity of the Children of Israel,” while a similar one for the book reads, “Since the European and Arab slave traders stepped foot into Africa, blacks have been told lies about their heritage.” Both suggest Hebrews to Negroes espouse ideas in line with more extreme factions of the Black Hebrew Israelites, which have a long history of misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and especially antisemitism.
The Black Hebrew Israelite movement is fairly broad, comprising organizations that (per the Anti-Defamation League) “operate semi-independently.” The movement generally coalesces around the notion that Black people are the real descendants of the ancient Israelites, with more extreme factions claiming that Black people have been “robbed of their identity as being ‘God’s chosen people'” (via the Southern Poverty Law Center).
It’s those extremist sects that have often parroted “classic” antisemitic tropes, like claiming European Jews (often referred to as the “synagogue of Satan”) wield outsized control over society, especially in industries like banking and the media. They’ve also pushed antisemitic claims that Jews are responsible for slavery and the “effeminizing of Black men.”
At one point in the purported documentary Irving shared, Dalton (who also narrates the film) brings up the “real truth about the slave trades.” He claims that, when teaching slavery, schools don’t mention the involvement of the Catholic Church, Arab, East African, or Islamic slave traders, or “the Jewish slave ships that brought our West African negro or Bantu ancestors to slave ports owned by [Jews].”
Immediately after, Dalton pivots to the mass media, calling it “the biggest tool of indoctrination, brainwashing, and propaganda that the world has seen” and adding that it’s been “helping Satan deceive the world” for centuries. To back up his claim, Dalton utilizes a fabricated quote that’s been a staple of antisemitic literature for decades. The quote — which details the supposed control Jews have over every facet of society — is attributed to Harold Rosenthal, an aide to former New York Senator Jacob Javits who was killed in a terrorist attack in Istanbul in 1976. The “quote” first appeared two years later, published in a pamphlet called The Hidden Tyranny by a man named Walter White, Jr., who appeared to make up an entire interview with Rosenthal to push this antisemitic theory.
In introducing the phony quote, Dalton pointedly describes Rosenthal as an “Ashkenazi Jew.”
Hebrews to Negroes, the book, contains even more instances of antisemitism. The book’s fourth chapter — “When Did Racism Towards Blacks Start?” — starts by falsely suggesting that anti-Black racism can be traced back to key Jewish texts. “Western Education and Religion tries to teach the world that blacks are cursed with their skin color by the Curse of Ham/Canaan. This is also taught in European Jewish documents and in the teachings of the Talmud book in Judaism. Some can say that it established the base for black racism even before the KKK.”
Another section wonders if there is “any connection” between Lucifer, Satan, Freemasonry, and Judaism and includes the claim, “Interesting enough, in earlier years, many Jews and European Scottish/York Freemasons have claimed that they worship Satan or Lucifer. Many famous high-ranking Jews and Freemasons have written books admitting to this.”
The book also quotes the infamous antisemitic hoax, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It includes a laundry list of industries — from banking to book publishing — that European Jews allegedly dominate before stating, “Using control of our money and the Mass Media, the European Jews gained control of our thinking…” Elsewhere, the book refers to the “Jewish controlled news media.”
The Nets suspended Irving on Thursday for “failing to disavow antisemitism,” citing a media session from earlier in the day in which he was asked “yes or no” whether he held antisemitic beliefs. Irving only said that he “cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from.”
The Nets said in a statement announcing the suspension that Irving is “unfit to be associated” with the organization, and that the suspension — which is without pay and will run for a minimum of five games — will only be lifted once Irving “satisfies a series of objective remedial measures that address the harmful impact of his conduct.”
The suspension came after immense public pressure for the organization to take action.
When Nets Daily asked for a comment last week about Irving promoting the film, the Nets replied: “The Brooklyn Nets strongly condemn and have no tolerance for the promotion of any form of hate speech. We believe that in these situations, our first action must be open, honest dialogue. We thank those, including the ADL, who have been supportive during this time.”
Nets owner Joe Tsai issued a statement last Friday night on Twitter expressing that he “disappointed that Kyrie appears to support a film based on a book full of anti-semitic disinformation.” He added in a follow-up tweet, “This is bigger than basketball.”
On Saturday, Irving dropped the ultimate non-apology, claiming that him being labeled antisemitic is unjustified, even though he literally shared works that are clearly antisemitic.
“I am an OMNIST and I meant no disrespect to anyone’s religious beliefs,” Irving tweeted. “The ‘Anti-Semitic’ label that is being pushed on me is not justified and does not reflect the reality or truth I live in everyday. I embrace and want to learn from all walks of life and religions.”
Though he later said he “took responsibility” for his actions and said he doesn’t believe that what the film said was “true or reflects my morals and principles,” Irving still failed to say the golden words “I’m sorry.”
“I oppose all forms of hatred and oppression and stand strong with communities that are marginalized and impacted every day. I am aware of the negative impact of my post toward the Jewish community and I take responsibility,” he wrote on Wednesday. “I do not believe everything said in the documentary was true or reflects my morals and principles.”
He added, “I am a human being learning from all walks of life and I intend to do so with an open mind and willingness to listen. So from my family and I, we meant no harm to any one group, race or religion of people, and wish to only be a beacon of truth and light.”
In the statement, both Irving and the Nets pledged to donate $500,000 each towards “causes and organizations that work to eradicate hate and intolerance in our communities” and stated both parties would work with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a non-profit “devoted to fighting antisemitism and all types of hate that undermine justice and fair treatment for every individual.”
The ADL announced it was rejecting Irving’s donation shortly after he was suspended by the Nets on Thursday. “We were optimistic but after watching the debacle of a press conference, it’s clear that Kyrie feels no accountability for his actions,” wrote ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “@ADL cannot in good conscience accept his donation.”
Irving’s vague acknowledgment of wrongdoing also drew the ire of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who criticized Irving for not offering “an unqualified apology.”
“Kyrie Irving made a reckless decision to post a link to a film containing deeply offensive antisemitic material,” Silver said in a statement Thursday, prior to the suspension. “I am disappointed that he has not offered an unqualified apology and more specifically denounced the vile and harmful content contained in the film he chose to publicize. I will be meeting with Kyrie in person in the next week to discuss this situation.”
The broad Black Hebrew Israelite movement, as the Southern Poverty Law Center notes, has its roots in Black Judaism, which began in the South during the late 1800s. The movement’s popularity and influence can be tied to its key tenets of “self-empowerment and economic independence,” while rhetoric “emphasizing the biblical theme of an oppressed nation being led to a promised land, informed black activist thought right up through the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.”
The SPLC goes on to note that while the belief that Black people were descended from the ancient Israelites was always part of Black Judaism, that didn’t necessarily mean that “other people deserved condemnation or attack.” Nevertheless, the movement (like many movements) had its extremists, who paired those original messages of self-empowerment with more hateful and antisemitic rhetoric as the Black Hebrew Israelite movement evolved during the 20th century.
As for Irving, long before tweeting out Hebrews to Negroes, he appeared to tweet something in line with Black Hebrew Israelite thinking back in March 2021. The statement wasn’t overtly antisemitic, rooted more in that core notion that Black people are the real descendants of the Israelites. “You better stop playing with History,” he wrote. “You better stop lying to your people Europe and America. You better stop feeding BS to the innocent children of God. The Original people are returning, and this time God will intervene at every corner of the Earth.”
(Irving, of course, has been tied to plenty of other conspiratorial thinking over the years, from his recent anti-vaxx skepticism to his curious flat Earth comments a few years ago. At the beginning of October, Irving even shared an old video of Alex Jones railing against the so-called “New World Order.”)
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Irving’s ostensible promotion of Hebrews to Negroes comes at a moment when Black Hebrew Israelite thinking, and the antisemitism espoused by its most extreme sects, have been garnering more attention thanks to Kanye West. The rapper’s recent string of comments about Jewish people has been in line with extreme Black Hebrew Israelite thinking, such as his claim that “you guys have toyed with me and tried to blackball anyone whoever opposes your agenda” and his assertion that he “actually can’t be Anti Semitic because black people are actually Jew also.”
This story was updated Oct. 29 to include Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai’s statement and Kyrie Irving’s tweet, and on Nov. 3 to include the news of Irving’s suspension.