Colorado lawmakers meet families of Hamas victims in Capitol

Andrew Kenney/CPR News
Rep. Scott Bottoms (R) and other lawmakers greeted the families of Hamas kidnapping and murder victims on the Senate floor on Feb. 5, 2024.

Updated 10:32 a.m. Feb. 9, 2024

The Colorado legislature on Monday hosted the families of 13 people who were kidnapped — and in two cases murdered — by Hamas in the Oct. 7, 2023 attacks on Israel. The group of six family members are visiting Colorado and New York on a trip sponsored by the Israeli government.

“Their loved ones’ time is short … so they have flown all the way from Israel to talk to us, to ask us to do whatever it is that we can do,” said Sen. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Democrat, as she introduced the families. “We can talk. We can call out. We can cry out for help."

Rep. Ron Weinberg, a Republican, led the planning for the visit. Later, the families were set to speak with Gov. Jared Polis and attend a meeting of the Jewish Community Center Association, then travel to New York City for meetings at the United Nations and with the Red Cross.

The families originally were set to visit both the Senate and the House chambers, but ultimately were welcomed to the Senate only. House Speaker Julie McCluskie declined to allow time for a similar event in her chamber, said Michaelson Jenet. Dozens of House members instead went to the Senate chambers to greet the Israeli families.

McCluskie said that she did not want to host the event in the chamber because of intense confrontations that had already arisen in the House over the war. Protests of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza have led to counter-accusations of anti-semitism.

“We must respect the deep personal connections members in this chamber have to this ongoing tragedy. I did not have assurances that members on both sides of the aisle would rise to the occasion, and I had concerns that continuing to bring this issue into the chamber would have had long-term detrimental impacts on how we are able to work together for the people of Colorado,” McCluskie said in a statement.

House Republicans said they were “deeply disturbed” by the decision not to host the families on the House floor, and said it was Democrats who failed to maintain decorum. “When speaking out against kidnapping and murder has become a controversial subject, it is a sign that something is extremely wrong with our Democratic-controlled House chamber,” a letter from the GOP caucus leaders read.

Hamas attackers killed roughly 1,200 people on Oct. 7, 2023, in Israel, including hundreds of civilian casualties and dozens of children. They also abducted 253 people. One hundred were released in an exchange in November, but 100 people or more are believed to remain captive in Gaza, Reuters reported.

“I ask that we consider these families and each individual like a human being,” Michaelson Jenet said.

The legislature also has faced calls to support Palestinian civilians in Gaza and beyond. Israel’s military response to the attacks has devastated Gaza, with Gazan health authorities reporting that 27,478 people had been killed as of Feb. 5. The vast majority of the area’s residents have been forced from their homes, and hundreds of thousands of people are starving.

A group of nations led by South Africa have accused Israel of genocide for the widespread civilian impact of its campaign, a claim that Israel has dismissed as “absurd.” In late January, the International Court of Justice found parts of the case were "plausible" and ordered Israel to take steps to avoid genocidal actions in Gaza. Israel has defended its campaign, saying that the civilian casualties are the results of efforts to kill Hamas leaders and destroy infrastructure buried within neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, dozens of current and former Colorado lawmakers have tried to build support in the state for a ceasefire — a policy that would end the Israeli strikes that have leveled many neighborhoods in Gaza.

“This is about humanity,” said Rep. Iman Jodeh, who has family in the West Bank and Gaza, in a press release last year. “We cannot afford to sit back as the world pleads for the United States to demand a ceasefire.”

Andrew Kenney/CPR News
Rep. Ron Weinberg (R) welcomes families of people kidnapped by Hamas in the Oct. 7, 2023, attacks, and the families’ supporters, to the Senate chambers on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. Weinberg worked with the Israeli consulate and others to arrange for the families’ trip from Israel to Colorado.

But the ceasefire movement has made little apparent headway with the state’s top political leaders and Congressional delegation, aside from support for humanitarian aid to Gaza. 

On Monday at the Capitol, the focus was on the suffering of the families of Hamas’ victims, who have been left to wonder for months whether they will see loved ones again. In his remarks, Rep. Weinberg said the state should condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization. 

“Show the Colorado people that we are above injustices and war crimes committed against civilians,” he said, referring to Hamas’ attacks. 

Zahiro Shahar Mor was among the Israeli delegation. Three of his family members were abducted and released, while his 79-year-old uncle remains in captivity.

“It's important to talk to anyone, anyone and everyone that can help, that can do something to push the public opinion towards the immediate release of the hostages,” he said in an interview. “This is the only thing that concerns us, and for this, we will go to extreme length.”

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Polis decried Hamas as a terrorist organization, calling for the release of the hostages. He also more generally lamented the “loss of innocent civilian lives in this conflict” and highlighted a state grant program that helps provide security for both temples and mosques.

Israel earlier sponsored similar delegations to Miami and Mexico, a spokeswoman said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from House Republicans and to include information about the ICJ's January ruling.