Exclusive-NAACP asks Biden to halt weapons to Israel as he seeks to shore up Black voter support

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a UNRWA school sheltering displaced people, in Nuseirat refugee camp

By Jarrett Renshaw and Kat Stafford

(Reuters) - The NAACP urged President Joe Biden on Thursday to "indefinitely" halt all weapons deliveries to Israel and pressure the U.S. ally to end its war in the Gaza Strip, sending a reminder that his support for Israel could hurt him among Black voters in November's election.

The NAACP's call was a rare instance of the influential civil rights organization taking a position on U.S. foreign policy towards a country without a significant Black population. It appeared likely to deepen the Democratic president's election-year challenges as he tries to back a key ally abroad and temper unrest among his supporters at home.

The 115-year-old civil rights group said Israel had a right to defend itself after the Hamas militant attacks on Oct. 7 that Israel says killed some 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages.

The NAACP urged Hamas to return the hostages and "stop all terrorist activity." It also urged Israel to "commit to an offensive strategy that is aligned with international and humanitarian laws." Israel faces accusations at the International Court of Justice that it has violated the genocide convention, which it denies.

The NAACP, which has advocated for racial justice and rights for Black Americans, said the U.S. must use its influence with Israel to bring a permanent ceasefire to Gaza. According to health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave, Israel's campaign has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, caused widespread hunger and displaced most of the population from their homes.

"The NAACP calls on President Biden to draw the red line and indefinitely end the shipment of all weapons and artillery to the state of Israel and other states that supply weapons to Hamas and other terrorist organizations. It is imperative that the violence that has claimed so many civilian lives, immediately stop," the organization said in a statement first provided to Reuters.

The NAACP stance represents the latest warning sign that Biden may pay a price at the ballot box among Black voters on Nov. 5 for his staunch support of Israel.

Black voters have long been a loyal Democratic constituency, and they played a significant role in Biden's victory in 2020 when he beat Republican Donald Trump, whom he faces again this year. But polls show a lack of enthusiasm for Biden among Black voters.

Earlier this year, a group of more than 1,000 Black pastors called on Biden to secure a ceasefire in the crisis.

A poll by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in March found that 59% of Black Americans believe U.S. military aid to Israel should only be used for self defense and in accordance with human rights standards.

Biden's re-election campaign is not as concerned that Black voters will shift toward Trump as they are that too many of them may sit out the election due to lack of enthusiasm, campaign officials have told Reuters.

After growing domestic pressure and international outrage, Biden paused a shipment of bombs last month to avoid their possible use in Israel's assault on the Gaza city of Rafah. But the pause was limited, and the U.S. remains the top supplier of military aid to Israel.

Biden on Friday said Israel proposed a fresh Gaza ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages. He called on Hamas to agree to the new offer, saying it was the best way to end the conflict. "It's time for this war to end and for the day after to begin," Biden said.


In an interview with Reuters, NAACP President Derrick Johnson said the U.S. needs to show moral leadership and stop sending weapons to Israel because of civilian deaths. Israel says it takes care to avoid civilian casualties and blames Hamas for, it says, hiding its fighters and command centers among civilians.

Johnson said the NAACP's decision to speak out was driven in part by young Black Americans horrified by the images of dead Palestinian civilians on their smart phones.

"It's raising a lot of questions around why our tax dollars are being used to harm civilians," Johnson said.

Democrats are deeply divided over Biden's handling of both the war in Gaza and the U.S. campus protests against it, a May Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

Some 44% of Democratic registered voters said they disapproved of Biden's handling of the crisis. Those who disapproved were less likely to say they would vote for Biden.

The conflict has also stoked U.S. antisemitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia that Johnson said will continue to grow as the fighting continues. Human rights advocates have reported a global rise in Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian bias and antisemitism since Oct. 7.

Johnson said the NAACP does not believe Biden's support for Israel is responsible for the trend but wants the U.S. to more forcefully advance peace by withholding weapons.

"We believe ... it's the responsibility of this nation to chart a course to de-escalate what we are seeing so that there can be a peaceful resolution," Johnson said.

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw and Kat Stafford; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)