New Report: Evaluating the Significance of Black Hebrew Israelism in an Era of Antisemitism
Black Hebrew Israelism in the U.S. should be considered a potential source for extremism- and antisemitism-related violence
NEW YORK, NY — In the two-week period after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, antisemitic incidents rose by nearly 400 percent compared with the year before. While the war carries on abroad, antisemitic violence persists here at home with new headlines each week. Jewish and Israeli MIT students reported, for example, that they were physically prevented from attending class by a group they described as hostile pro-Hamas students. And in Queens, a high school teacher was forced into hiding after students rioted over her attendance of a pro-Israel rally.
In a new Manhattan Institute report, fellow Charles Fain Lehman explores the role Black Hebrew Israelism (BHI) plays in rising antisemitic and associated violence, suggesting that it should be considered a potential source for extremism- and antisemitism-related violence. BHI, he explains, is the belief that modern-day African Americans are descended from the Ancient Israelites while—according to some but not all Black Hebrew Israelites—modern-day Jews are not. While BHI has been associated with both violence and antisemitism, relatively little is known about its prevalence, or about how predictive BHI views are of antisemitism and support for violence.
This report provides details on the prevalence and correlates of BHI, based on an original survey of 1,075 black Americans and 555 nonblack Americans fielded in July 2023. Findings include:
- Roughly 26 percent of the black population, and 14 percent of the nonblack population, plausibly professes to believe that modern American blacks are descended from the ancient Israelites, the key belief of BHI.
- Roughly 9 percent of blacks and 3 percent of nonblacks credibly profess these beliefs and identify as “Hebrew Israelites.”
- Profession of these beliefs and identification as a Hebrew Israelite is associated with warmer feelings towards Jews, but it is also associated with a greater willingness to agree with antisemitic beliefs.
- Profession of BHI beliefs or identification is associated with greater support for political violence, but only with support for interpersonal violence in the nonblack sample.
BHI is more common than one might expect. Compared to a 2021 Pew survey on faith among black Americans, Lehman’s findings suggest that there are more self-identifying Black Hebrew Israelites than there are black Catholics or black believers of non-Christian faiths in the U.S. While the idea that contemporary black Americans are descended from the biblical Ancient Israelites is not itself a dangerous belief, even if it is a false one, the survey results corroborate the view that the BHI community is composed of a small, more radical minority which should be taken as seriously as other radicalizing ideologies like white supremacy and radical Islam.