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NAACP asks Biden to stop arms going to Israel as he seeks Black voter support

June 6, 2024 at 3:57 pm

Protesters hold signs and chant slogans as they demonstrate against President Joe Biden’s visit to Chicago, where he is attending a fundraising event for his presidential campaign, on May 8, 2024, in Chicago, Illinois, United States. [Jacek Boczarski – Anadolu Agency]

US civil rights organisation the NAACP urged President Joe Biden on Thursday to “indefinitely” halt all arms deliveries to Israel and put pressure on the US ally to end its war in the Gaza Strip, Reuters has reported. The influential organisation reminded Biden that his support for Israel could hurt him among Black voters in the November presidential election.

The NAACP’s call was a rare instance of it taking a position on US 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 that Israel had a right to defend itself after the Hamas cross-border incursion on 7 October, and urged the resistance movement to return the hostages and “stop all terrorist [sic] 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 occupation state has ignored ICJ rulings since the case filed by South Africa in December, which argues that Israel is not implementing the order of the court.

The organisation advocates for racial justice and rights for Black Americans. It said that the US must use its influence with Israel to bring a permanent ceasefire to Gaza. Israel’s military offensive has killed more than 36,600 Palestinians, wounded 80,000, caused widespread hunger and starvation, and displaced most of the 2.2 million 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 [sic] organisations. It is imperative that the violence that has claimed so many civilian lives, immediately stop,” the organisation said in a statement first provided to Reuters.

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, who he is likely to face again this year. However, at the moment, 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 per cent of Black Americans believe US military aid to Israel should only be used for self-defence and in accordance with human rights law.

Biden’s re-election campaign is not as concerned that Black voters will shift towards Trump, as it is about too many of them sitting out the election due to a 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. The pause was limited enough to be ineffectual, though, and the US remains the top supplier of military aid to Israel.

Last Friday, Biden said that 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,” he said.

OPINION: The US role in Israel’s genocide in Gaza

In an interview with Reuters, NAACP President Derrick Johnson said that the US needs to show moral leadership and stop sending weapons to Israel because of civilian deaths. Israel claims to take care to avoid civilian casualties and blames Hamas for, it says, hiding its fighters and command centres among civilians. Such claims mean little when Israel directs air strikes at UN schools being used as shelters for displaced people and attacks and destroys hospitals. It has never provided any credible evidence that the resistance movement has used such civilian infrastructure for military purposes.

Johnson said that 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,” he pointed out.

Democrats are deeply divided over Biden’s handling of both the war in Gaza and the US campus protests against it, a May Reuters/Ipsos poll found. Some 44 per cent of Democratic registered voters said that 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 US anti-Semitism, 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 anti-Semitism since 7 October.

According to Johnson, the NAACP does not believe that Biden’s support for Israel is responsible for the trend, but wants the US to advance peace more forcefully by withholding weapons from the occupation state. “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,” he added.

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