As Kyrie Irving returns to action, Black Hebrews rally in solidarity outside stadium

NBA star again denounces antisemitism prior to game, but group galvanized by his promotion of conspiracy theory-ladened film gathers and hands out anti-Jewish fliers to fans

Members of the Israel United in Christ hate group gather outside the Barclays Center arena on November 20, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)
Members of the Israel United in Christ hate group gather outside the Barclays Center arena on November 20, 2022. (Screen capture/Twitter)

JTA — Kyrie Irving returned Sunday from an eight-game suspension after again apologizing for promoting an antisemitic film on Twitter.

“I just want to offer my deep apologies to all those who were impacted over these last few weeks, specifically my Jewish relatives, my Black relatives, all races and cultures,” Irving said prior to Sunday’s game between his Brooklyn Nets and the Memphis Grizzlies. “Feel like we all felt an impact and I don’t stand for anything close to hate speech or antisemitism or anything that is ‘anti,’ going against the human race.”

Irving also seemed to reflect on the way he handled the now month-long saga, which included his repeated refusal to apologize for his tweet and his insistence that he “cannot be antisemitic.”

“I feel like we all should have an opportunity to speak for ourselves when things are assumed about us and I feel it was necessary for me to stand in this place and take accountability for my actions, because there was a way I should have handled all this and as I look back and reflect when I had the opportunity to offer my deep regrets to anyone that felt threatened or felt hurt by what I posted, that wasn’t my intent at all,” he said.

Irving had first apologized on November 3, hours after his suspension was announced. “To All Jewish families and Communities that are hurt and affected from my post, I am deeply sorry to have caused you pain, and I apologize,” Irving wrote in an Instagram post.

Critics of Kyrie’s decision to tweet a link to the film, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” noted that it boosted sales of the film and a related book that promotes the idea that Jews were heavily involved in the Atlantic slave trade, denies the Holocaust and says Black people are the real Jews.

Followers of a group that ascribes to such theories gathered at the Grand Army Plaza, a half mile from the Nets’ arena Sunday, chanting “it’s time to wake up. I’ve got good news for you, we are the real Jews.”

The group included dozens of people from Israel United in Christ, a New York-based group associated with the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. The movement — not to be confused with the International Israelite Board of Rabbis, which embraces mainstream Jewish beliefs — has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The group then convened directly outside the Barclays Center arena, distributing antisemitic flyers titled “The Truth About Anti-Semitism” and “The Truth about Slavery.”

When asked about the demonstration after the game, Irving first said he was unaware of what had happened. When given more information by a reporter, Irving declined to comment.

“I think that’s a conversation for another day. I’m just here to focus on the game,” he said.

Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown, who, along with Irving, is a vice president of the NBA Players Association, retweeted a video of the group with the caption “Energy.”

He later clarified that he “was not aware of what specific group” was in the video, and was “celebrating the unification of our people welcoming the return of Kyrie to the court.”

Irving scored 14 points in 26 minutes in Sunday’s game, saying afterward that “it felt good” to be back. “Now we can move forward with the rest of the season,” he added. When asked if he planned to file a grievance for his suspension, Irving did not directly answer.

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, right, tries to reach the ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

“I have some strong people, men and women, around me that are going to do everything possible to make sure that I’m protected and my family’s protected and we protect one another, so I’m sure some things will be done in the future,” Irving said. “There’s no timetable on that right now.”

Irving was suspended for at least five games Nov. 3, days after he shared the film on Twitter and after considerable pressure from Jewish groups and others around sports. Nike also severed ties with Irving.

The Nets had laid out a slate of “remedial steps” the star point guard would need to take in order to be reinstated. Among them was meeting with Jewish leaders, including the Anti-Defamation League, which has been advising the Nets throughout the controversy.

According to NBC News, the Nets praised Irving for his actions since the suspension. “Kyrie took ownership of this journey and had conversations with several members of the Jewish community,” the team said in a statement. “We are pleased that he is going about the process in a meaningful way.”

One of the many Black Hebrew Israelite-affiliated groups made its way from the US to Dimona in the Negev Desert in the 1960s, and after decades of fraught relations with the government, is becoming increasingly integrated in Israeli society.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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