Refuting four antisemitic claims of the Radical Hebrew Israelites

As these tropes continue to spread like wildfire, we need to be prepared with direct, yet nuanced responses.
Radical Hebrew Israelites spew antisemitism outside the Barclay Center in Brooklyn on December 3, 2022. (Screenshot: Michael Rapaport via Twitter)

Prior to the rapper formerly known as Kanye West unleashing antisemitic tirades excused by, “I can’t be antisemitic because I am Jew too,” most American Jews had never heard of Hebrew Israelites. Yet, the ideology espoused by its radical factions is over a century old, and it’s already responsible for the murder of Jews on American soil. 

The ideas that animate organizations like those seen marching outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, chanting, “We are the real Jews,” are spreading fast. Like other mutations of antisemitism, Radical Hebrew Israelite (RHI) ideology is based on a number of falsehoods that can be easily debunked when properly understood.

Four antisemitic claims of RHIs

I’ve been studying and confronting RHIs for the past two decades. Based on my experience, the lies and conspiracy theories they tell about Jews can be distilled as follows:

  1. The original Hebrews/Israelites/Jews were “Black” (or otherwise dark-skinned) — therefore, “white” or pale-skinned Jews must be illegitimate or inauthentic.
  2. The Jewish people (often pejoratively described as Jew-ish or “the ish people”) are usurpers descended from the biblical Amalekites and/or Khazarian converts to Judaism.
  3. The Jewish people on the whole (Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Ashkenazi) cannot be actual descendants of the ancient Hebrews because their historical experience doesn’t fit the curses outlined in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 28.
  4. Jews are “the Synagogue of Satan” collectively responsible for the enslavement and subsequent suffering of African Americans, Caribbean, Latinx, and Native Americans; the true children of Israel.

As these tropes continue to spread like wildfire (some estimate that 7.8 million Americans subscribe to at least some of these beliefs), we need to be prepared with direct, yet nuanced responses.

Why is a nuanced response the most effective response? Extremism thrives in simplicity. Catch-all generalizations that manipulate a seed of truth are the MO of radicalization. Exposing the flaws in this worldview is our greatest means to stop radicalization in its tracks.

Conspiracy #1: The original Hebrews were “Black.”

Jewish tradition is pretty explicit about the fact that, on average, our ancient Hebrew forebears were dark complected. According to the Mishnah (Tractate Negaim), at the time of the Exodus, the children of Israel were (on average) neither literally white nor literally black but the color of boxwood — i.e. ruddy brown.

The sages who composed the Mishna wrote this in light of their lived experience: Ancient middle easterners/northeast Africans were physically diverse. By the time the Mishnah was compiled (circa 200 CE), many centuries had passed since our boxwood-colored ancestors left Egypt, and Israel (both the land and the people) saw a diverse array of peoples join it. Egyptians, Nubians, Greeks, Hittites, you name it! Fast forward to the various exiles that sent our ancestors all over the world, and what was already a physically diverse nation, became even more diverse.

Race is a modern construct, one that our ancestors wouldn’t have recognized. The moment Abraham became the first Hebrew by merely leaving his home in Mesopotamia, or when the Israelites left Egypt with a “mixed multitude,” any notion of racial purity lost its relevance.

Abraham’s Hebrew identity was rooted in an action, not a bloodline. Hence, Jews identify as a people, not merely a religion and not as a race. Being Jewish is a complex identity that inspired a lot of antisemitism in the Diaspora. Jews in Europe were explicitly targeted for being physically and/or ancestrally “Black” — this notion was central to Nazi propaganda and is at least as old as the term “antisemitism” itself.

According to British historian Tudor Parfitt, Wilhemm Marr (who popularized the word antisemitism) “argued that the blood of the Negro flowed freely in the veins of Jews. Jews therefore really were somatically as well as metaphorically the Blacks of Europe.” This later became a feature of Nazi ideology.

Conspiracy #2: The Jewish people descended from Amalekite and/or Khazarian converts to Judaism.

Two historical events are twisted in RHI doctrine to account for the totality of the Jewish world: the Idumean-forced conversion to Judaism during the Hasmonean period, and the conversion of the Khazarian nobility to Judaism in the 8th century CE.

These theories are false. None of the dazzling diverse historical Jewish communities (Sephardic, Mizrahi, Indian, Ethiopian, and Ashkenazi) can be said to descend primarily from either these or other mass conversions. 

The descendants of Idumean converts were exiled alongside and intermingled with Jews of other backgrounds. The Khazarian hypothesis (that Ashkenazi Jews descended from the Khazars) has been thoroughly debunked by scholars. 

The origins of Europe and Africa’s Jewish communities can be traced to displaced Judeans who, over time, were joined by local converts. This is well-documented by historians, linguists, and geneticists alike.

Ashkenazi Jews existed long before any Khazar became Jewish. However many Khazars remained Jewish after the destruction of their kingdom in the 10th century, they had little to no impact on Europe’s already-large Jewish communities.

Any attempt to label Jews “Amalekites” is ahistorical and motivated by the biblical framing of the Amalekites as the bitter enemies of Israel. RHI ideology is rooted in the belief that the Jewish people have engaged in a worldwide conspiracy to steal the Israelite identity.

This claim has no basis in the historical record. On the contrary, the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people saw themselves as part of a global Israelite family — some of whom were known to them, while others were “lost” to them. The diversity of Jewish communities around the world is a testament to this reality.

Conspiracy #3: The Jewish historical experience doesn’t fit the curses in Deuteronomy 28.

Deuteronomy Chapter 28 — more commonly known to Jews as Devarim Parshat Ki Tavo — records the blessings and curses that will be visited upon the people of Israel if we uphold or repudiate our commitment to follow the Torah’s commandments (mitzvot) in the Land of Israel.

Much of Hebrew Israelism is predicated on drawing direct comparisons between the curses outlined in this chapter and the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, chattel slavery, and Jim Crow. 

To most Hebrew Israelites, verse 68 has unique importance: “And the Lord will bring you back to Egypt in ships…And there, you will seek to be sold to your enemies for slaves and handmaids.”

For Hebrew Israelites, America is cast as modern Egypt, and the reference to “ships” is seen as evidence that this verse (and others) refer to the peoples carried into slavery by ships to the Americas. For RHIs, this gives the descendants of slavery exclusive claim over the Israelite identity.

Without getting into the weeds of debating biblical hermeneutics, the inability to see Jews as having experienced the pains of persecution and exile described in these verses reflects a grave ignorance and denial of Jewish history.

Until relatively recently with the emancipation of Jewish communities in Western states and the rebirth of the State of Israel, Jewish history has been defined by incessant persecution, expulsions, and genocides throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. 

This 2,000-year history began with the first-century CE destruction of Judean civilization and the mass enslavement of Jews, which included bringing large numbers of us in ships to slave markets in Egypt from which we were sent throughout the Roman Empire.

One has to ignore or deny this history in order to claim that the Jewish experience doesn’t fit Deuteronomy 28. 

Conspiracy #4: Jews are the “Synagogue of Satan” responsible for the slave trade and Black suffering in the Americas.

A tiny minority of Jews played a role in the financing, trafficking, and enslavement of Africans. This minority was responsible for between 6-10% of a trade that was dominated by European Christians and Arab Muslims.

To hyperfocus on the involvement of Jews to the point that it obfuscates the role played by the aforementioned groups is disingenuous and antisemitic. The vast majority of Jews played no role in the ugly institution of American chattel slavery. Blaming Jews as a whole for the actions of a minority of Jewish families is offensive and absurd.

The “Satanic Jews” trope was a consistent source of antisemitic violence in Medieval European Christian society. Preachers used New Testament (NT) verses such as Revelations 3:9 (“Behold…the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie”) to demonize the Jewish people as the source of all evil. They also used it to justify replacing them as God’s chosen people — AKA Replacement Theology.

Like most NT verses condemning Jews, the “Synagogue of Satan” insult is a remnant of the long-forgotten intercommunal dispute between the original Jewish followers of Jesus and the majority of the Jewish world who refused to recognize him as their messiah. The Jewish context of the birth of Christianity hasn’t stopped white supremacists from using these verses for antisemitic purposes, nor has its popularity in white supremacist circles discouraged RHI from repurposing it to fit their own version of Replacement Theology.

Nazis chant “Jews will not replace us,” during the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. (Courtesy: Vice News)


The likelihood of any one of us convincing a card-carrying member of a Radical Hebrew Israelite organization to abandon their antisemitic ways is slim. However, education is a powerful tool in preventing those vulnerable to adopting these ideas from becoming antisemitic in the first place. Ignorance is the breeding ground for prejudice, fear, and hatred.

RHI’s antisemitic caricature of Jews employs the same tropes of its sister mutations of Jew-hatred (white supremacist, Radical Islamist, anti-Zionist, etc.). In order to educate those vulnerable to accepting antisemitic tropes, we need to understand their core claims and how to refute them.

Subscribe to This Week Unpacked

Each week we bring you a wrap-up of all the best stories from Unpacked. Stay in the know and feel smarter about all things Jewish.