The Kyrie Irving Antisemitism Saga: Explained

Everything you never really wanted to know
By Amelia Merrill
Irving in a 2022 Brooklyn Nets game
Photo: Dustin Satloff - Getty Images North America

The Brooklyn Nets announced on November 3 that they have suspended star Kyrie Irving, a point guard and seven-time NBA All-Star, for at least five games. The suspension comes after Irving sparked discussions of antisemitism on social media, including through his tweet linking to a debunked pseudo-documentary that perpetuates antisemitic conspiracy theories. After much back and forth over whether Irving had offered a sufficient apology on Nov. 2, the Nets suspended him the next day.

The Nets, who have pledged to donate half a million dollars to an organization(s) combatting religious discrimination, have also stated that Irving must fulfill a series of objective remedial measures” to be reinstated, according to a statement. 

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Irving has garnered controversy in the past, most notably for refusing the Covid-19 vaccine in 2021 and thereby missing months of the Nets’s season due to the New York City vaccine mandate. He liked Instagram posts from a conspiracy theorist who claimed that the vaccine inserted a chip into Black Americans to control them; the conspiracy theory of a microchip in the vaccine has been traced back to a Swedish biohacking forum that propagated misinformation regarding a statement by Bill Gates in 2020. Irving returned to the game in early 2022.

Irving in a 2021 Brooklyn Nets game
Photo: Brad Penner – USA Today Sports

On October 27, Irving tweeted a link to the film Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America”by Ronald Dalton Jr., based Dalton Jr.’s book series of the same name. The film, which Dalton Jr. presents as a documentary, espouses multiple antisemitic conspiracy theories shared by the Black Hebrew Israelites (BHI), an umbrella of fringe Black separatist group to which Dalton Jr. may belong, based on his tweets. Black Hebrew Israelites preach that Black Americans who descend from formerly enslaved people are members of the lost tribes of Israel. 

 

Hebrews to Negroes reiterates this theory and claims that non-African Jews are not really Jewish and in fact stole Jewish religious and cultural practices from African Jews to control them, having achieved this feat through the operation of the transatlantic slave trade. This idea of such consolidated Jewish power and influence is also found in the “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a counterfeit Russian text from the early 1900s that imagines a vast Jewish conspiracy theory to control the world. Scholars have debunked the theories set forth by the BHI and by the “Protocols.”

American Jews—both those who did own slaves and those who did not—were vastly outnumbered by American Christians during the Antebellum period and did not spearhead or control the transatlantic slave trade. The experiences of Black Jews, both in the United States and elsewhere, are largely erased by the BHI conspiracy theory and by their religious practices, which combine Jewish rituals with Christian theology. 

Black Hebrew Israelites at a 2018 protest in Washington, D.C.
Black Hebrew Israelites at a 2018 protest in Washington, D.C. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Irving refused to apologize for sharing the documentary on Twitter, stating at an October 29 press conference that he had “a whole army around me” to defend his beliefs. He eventually deleted the tweet linking to the film, prompting rapper Kanye West—whose Twitter account was restored after Elon Musk bought the site—to tweet his support. On the same day the Nets suspended Irving, West tweeted, “You can’t be anti-Semite when you know you are Semite,” apparently echoing tenets of the BHI movement. West had been suspended from Twitter in mid-October for threatening Jewish people.

 

Irving, who converted to Islam as an adult and who also identifies with the omnist philosophy of respecting all religions, pledged $500,000 to the Anti-Defamation League along with Nets. However, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt rejected Irving’s donation because his statement did not discuss antisemitism or include an apology.

Irving remains suspended without pay. Former NBA players like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, and Amar’e Stoudemire, who converted to Judaism in 2020, have discussed the statements of both Irving and West in the media. Irving met with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who is Jewish, on Nov. 8 to discuss his suspension.