“Black Hebrew Israelite” is a term that is applied to a range of groups, whose origins lie in the great late 19th century flourishing of new religious movements which include the Nation of Islam. Just as the Nation of Islam is defined by its heterodox take on Islam, the Black Hebrew Israelites syncretise aspects of Judaism, Christianity and self-generated theology.
As aspect of Black Hebrew Israelite theology is that only they are the true Jews. As the Southern Poverty Law Center explains:
“Its extremist leaders preach that modern-day Jews are devilish impostors and white people are evil personified, deserving of death or slavery.”
The group mixes antisemitism and conspiracism with a focus on social injustice. They are an increasingly visible presence in the United States. You may remember that, at the beginning of the year, a Black Hebrew Israelite group demonstration against a Native American rally hit the headlines, when it was wrongly reported that a teenage student from Covington High School had “smirked” at one of the Native American attendees.
In the past, Black Hebrew Israelite hostility to Jews took the form of seeking out areas in which Hassidic Jews live, and subjecting them to aggressive and insulting street preaching. In September of this year, Lily Smythe wrote in this journal about her encounter with such a Black Hebrew Israelite Group in North East London:
““Your money won’t save you from the hell fire!” “You’re gonna go back to the gas chambers!”, “We will smash your heads in!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Every time an orthodox Jew walked past, this violent group began shouting antisemitic insults through their loudspeaker, calling Jews devils, and money worshippers, screaming about their “long noses” and saying their tzitzis would send them to hell.”
It is possible, but not certain, that the man who verbally attacked the Jewish family on a Northern Line train in November, and was confronted by a Muslim woman, was a member of a Black Hebrew Israelite group.
We now know that the massacre at the kosher supermarket in Jersey City was perpetrated by a man who had a connection to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. The New York Times reported that the gunman had written a series of antisemitic posts, and that the police believed that the supermarket had been specifically targeted by him.
The Black Hebrew Israelite movement is not exclusively violent. Indeed, the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem live peacefully in Israel. Just as there was an exodus from the Nation of Islam into mainstream Islam, some Black Hebrew Israelites have transitioned into orthodox Judaism.
However, if a member of the group has indeed transitioned from fighting words into terrorist violence, the risk that the Black Hebrew Israelites presents has dramatically increased. We know that this group is active in the United Kingdom. Haredi Jews are particularly exposed to this threat, because they are easy to identify as visibly Jewish.