The 'Hebrew Israelites' who targeted Charedim with antisemitic taunts have threatened to continue their aggressive street preaching – as police mull how to handle any repeat incidents.
Officers were called to Stamford Hill, in east London during Shabbat on September 7 after passers-by reported the group of 20 to 30 men, who branded Jews "Amalekites and Edomites", devils and “Slavic, German, Yiddish-speaking abominations”.
The group, most of whom are from south London, call themselves alternately the Church of Yahawashi, Hebrew Israelites or the Outlaws of the House of David, and believe they are the real Jews and Ashkenazim are “imposters".
A local observant Jewish woman, Lily Smythe, later wrote in a Quilliam Perspective blog that she had never “felt so terrified by a group of people”.
The Community Security Trust (CST) accused them of “abusing Judaism and Jewish passers-by”, saying they posed a risk to “public order and very probable incitement to racism”.
A CST spokesman said that Jews "have the right to verbally argue back and some of us may well take this option", but warned that the likeliest outcome would be to "further excite the demonstrators".
No arrests were made at the September 7 demonstration but the JC understands police officers and Hackney Council representatives held a "blue lights meeting" to discuss the prospect of future incidents.
Speaking near their base in Brixton, the leader or 'captain' of the group, Ashan Ban-Yahawadah told the JC the "heavenly father" instructed the Hebrew Israelites to go to Stamford Hill, saying they would continue to “go wherever people are”.
Clutching a shofar, Captain Ban-Yahawadah said: “Have we done anything to them? Did we strike any Jew in Stamford Hill? When we went over there to Stamford Hill did we strike any Amalekite?
“We’re not trying to convince anybody. When we teach out there, only a handful of people listen to us. The scripture says even if people don’t listen, we should prophesy into the wind.
“We want the police to get involved because we’re the real policemen. We’re the real law-givers. We’re reading out of the book of the law.
“[God] has made us a prophet unto the nations. That was the first time we went there. But the heavenly father told us to go and prophesy against Stamford Hill.
“I’m sure if they read their Torah properly, it tells you the Jews had dark-skinned complexions… Us going over to Stamford Hill and cursing them out for their wickedness – that’s a small thing. We haven’t even done nothing to them, we’re just telling them they’re wicked and they’re not the real people.”
The ideology of the group appears to have its roots in several American groups of ‘Black Hebrew Israelites’, including the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, formerly the Israeli Church of Universal Practical Knowledge, and the One West Camp.
The group refers to both Old and New Testaments to justify the belief that people of West African, Caribbean and Latino descent are the true members of the 12 Tribes of Israel, while their iconography also incorporates Ethiopian and/or Rastafari imagery.
Elements of science fiction have been integrated into the belief system, with followers preaching faith in UFOs which will deliver the “heavenly father, who looks just like us”, before “causing mayhem”.
The Hebrew Israelites’ leader said that he and his followers were drawn to the movement after growing disillusioned with Christianity, as it was preached in West African and Caribbean congregations in London.
He said: “We became aware of it by reading the book. We used to go to church and sit in there and just listen to the pastor lullaby baby us to sleep. We weren’t learning nothing in the church. We were sleeping in there.
“So when we started actually reading the book – blessed is he that readeth... that’s when we realised that it was talking about us.
“We went in slavery. We’re the ones that are most hated race of people on the face of the Earth. We were like: ‘Them people in Stamford Hill can’t be the Israelites’.
“We became blessed because we found out we weren’t just some Africans, monkeys swinging in the tree. We’re actually the children of Israel, the chosen people.”
He also distanced himself from the militancy sometimes exhibited by parallel groups in the United States, insisting that the Hebrew Israelites “don’t incite violence”.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Professor John Jackson, who has researched Hebrew Israelites in the United States, told the JC that the London group resemble their American counterparts, commenting that they have “almost exactly the same street corner performance structure”.
In his book, Real Black: Adventures in Racial Sincerity, Prof Jackson wrote of the US-based groups’ “propensity for racial conspiracy theorising and alternative historical narratives”.
He said: “It sounds like this London group has the same alternative reading of the transatlantic slave trade, a reading that says blacks in England aren’t Africans historically, genetically or culturally.
“Instead, they argue that African pagans and Arab Muslims sold Hebrew Israelites into slavery to Europeans. Any other interpretation, they claim, is a lie.”