What has Kyrie Irving actually said about the antisemitic film he publicized?
NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving spoke to reporters for more than 13 minutes at the Brooklyn Nets’ practice facility on Sunday, hours before he is set to play his first game since the team suspended him on Nov. 4. He started with a statement that lasted more than three minutes, and then he took four questions.
Irving has missed eight games, was described as “currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets” in an official press release and had his shoe contract suspended by Nike because of an antisemitism scandal that started with him publicizing a film on social media. And yet, between his two defiant press conferences, his interview with SNY on Saturday and this latest session, he has said relatively little about the content of the film itself.
The last question he answered on Sunday, though, was straightforward: The crux of the movie is that Black people are the real Israelites from the Bible — what are your views on that?
“Well, that was the intent when I was watching the movie, was to have a deeper understanding of my family heritage and where I come from,” Irving said. “And when I said I meant no harm, I meant that. To learn about the lost tribes of Israel, to learn about Black history in a way where it’s not degrading anyone else’s history is important to me.”
Some context: The film he watched, “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” is full of lies and conspiracy theories about Jewish people. It alleges that “false white Jews” are trying to “extort America” because they “know that the Negroes as the Real Children of Israel,” using a fake quote from Adolf Hitler (with his first name spelled incorrectly) as supporting evidence. The film and the book that it is based on both feature unambiguous Holocaust denial.
As Jon Blistein of Rolling Stone, Diana Moskovitz of Defector, Yaron Weitzman of Fox Sports and Drew Magary of SFGate have explained, the film pushes the beliefs of the radical faction of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. Magary described it as “a fundamentally antisemitic work built around the belief that Black people are the original Hebrews, and that present-day Jews have stolen their identity and used it to run the world.” (Not all Black Hebrew Israelites “claim an exclusive identity as the true chosen people of God and decry Jews as the impostors and thieves,” but this is the belief of Radical Hebrew Israelites, who are classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
In other words, if you want to learn about Black history from a reputable source, “Hebrews to Negores: Wake Up Black America” is not it. This is why one of the reported prerequisites for Irving to return to the court was to meet with the media and clearly state that the film is harmful and untrue and he is sorry for sharing it.
So what has Irving actually said?
In his last answer on Sunday, he went on to say that he is “proud to know where I come from” and is “not perfect,” but he has “a gift from God” to “bring people together in ways that go way beyond things I can understand right now,” adding that he would “continue to be a student of life and continue to learn through my mistakes.”
He said that “all this started” because he was trying “to learn what anti-Blackness was. And it led me to a documentary that ended up exploring and opening my mind to more than I can put into words right now. So I think there are deeper conversations that I would like to have regarding the lineage of Hebrews and regarding the lineage of more of our cultures here and abroad.”
On Saturday, Irving told SNY that he “wanted to share the link with all those that were also on the same journey and search for their heritage as I am on.” He said that “the majority of the documentary was speaking on the lost tribes of our world, Black people specifically, and dealing with other races that are also searching for their history.”
Irving has now apologized numerous times for the hurt he has caused the Jewish community. He has said that he should have directly answered reporters’ questions before he was suspended. On Sunday, though, he also said he was “rightfully defensive” at the time and said that the team’s return-to-play requirements “pinned me in a corner as if I was guilty of something and as if I was this antisemitic person, this label that was placed on me.” If Irving fully disavows the thesis of “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” he has not said so yet.
What he has said on numerous occasions is that he grew up in a melting pot — on Sunday he called it a “racial harmonious environment” — in which he could speak openly without fear of “the judgment of being harshly criticized and being canceled,” as he put it on Saturday.
At his post-game press conference on Oct. 29, Irving said:
“I’m not a divisive person when it comes to religion. I embrace all walks of life. You see it on all my platforms. I talk to all races, all cultures, all religions. And my response would be it’s not about educating yourself on what semitism is, what antisemitism is, it’s really about learning the root words of where these come from and understanding that this is an African heritage that is also belonging to people. Africa is in it, whether we want to dismiss it or not. So, the claims of antisemitism — and ‘who are the original chosen people of God?’ — and we go into these religious conversations and it’s a big no-no. I don’t live my life that way.”
Before and after his apologies, Irving has consistently framed the film as a step on his educational journey that, unfortunately, contained some antisemitism. This weekend, he said that the film “generalized” Jewish people.
From Saturday’s interview with SNY:
“The unfortunate aspect in that three-hour documentary is the antisemitic remarks in terms of generalizing Jewish people. I believe that was unfair, and that wasn’t the aspect of the post that I wanted the focus to be on. The initial post was supposed to be for all those that were searching for more information, more history and are able to interpret it in a way where they see it as progressive and they learn something from it.
“Again, it was just a post. It was no context i put into it. I was just watching the video to learn more about the heritage, do a deeper dive into who I am. And unfortunately in that process, I hurt some people, and I’m sorry for that. But the search for what tribe I belong to, where I come from, is ongoing. And I’m continuing this search with God and, wherever I’m placed, I believe that that’s where I’m supposed to be.”
And from Sunday’s availability:
“To be generalized in a society is one of the worst things we can do. And so I didn’t want to generalize harmfully (about) Jews. It ended up being attached to my name and I felt defensive, but initially when you’re dealing with that emotion, I think you gotta let it out and I did and there were some things that were misinterpreted and misunderstood in those comments in those press conferences. All I was meaning to say is that I stand strong with the people I come from.”
Irving said that he wants to let everybody, not just Jewish people, know that he is “here to listen and I’m here to stand with you against any issues that may be plaguing your community.” As Weitzman noted, three years ago in Jersey City, there was a shooting at a grocery store in a Hasidic neighborhood, motivated by the same sort of antisemitic conspiracy theories found throughout “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America.” After Irving publicized the film, it shot up Amazon’s rankings, and there has been no shortage of people trying to talk to him about antisemitism.
While Irving has not said exactly who he met with during his suspension, he said Sunday that he is apologizing because “different people within the Jewish community” gave him “a deeper understanding of what’s going on and the impact that was made and the hurt that was caused.” If he does understand, then why has he stopped short of disavowing the film entirely?