Colorado Democrats to consider formal call for Gaza ceasefire

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Shouting “from the river, to the sea, Palestine will be free,” demonstrators disrupted the opening day on the 2024 Colorado General Assembly before being escorted from the Capitol by State Troopers, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024.

Colorado’s Democratic Party may soon take a stand on Israel’s war in Gaza, which has resulted in tens of thousands of reported civilian deaths. On Monday the party’s central committee — which includes about 600 people from across the state — is set to consider whether to formally call for a ceasefire.

The two-page resolution condemns both “the terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians by Hamas” and the “disproportionate military response by Israel that has led to a horrible loss of life of Palestinian civilians.” CPR News obtained a copy of the document and confirmed its authenticity with party leadership.

The resolution also calls for Hamas to release all hostages and calls for the “dismantling” of the “terrorist organization.” At the same time, it condemns Israel’s continued construction of settlements in the West Bank and Israeli settlers’ violence against Palestinians there. 

Coming eight months into the war, the resolution would have no practical impact on U.S. foreign policy. But it is an attempt to bridge sharply divided views among Democrats. That split was evident in some of Tuesday night’s primaries. Rep. Elisabeth Epps, who was defeated by a challenger, said her criticism of U.S. support for the war catalyzed opposition against her. 

Meanwhile, other Democrats have expressed outrage over the tactics of some in the pro-Palestine protest movement, including recent demonstrations outside the homes of two University of Colorado regents, one of whom is Jewish, and have said that some leftist criticism of the war denies Israel's right to exist.

Ultimately, the draft resolution would urge President Joe Biden and Congress to “use their considerable leverage to bring about a permanent end to hostilities and take concrete steps towards a two-state solution with democratic self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians.” It does not call for the U.S. to cut or put conditions on its aid to Israel. And it would express support for Biden’s ceasefire plan.

The Washington Post recently reported that the U.S. has provided $6.5 billion in military aid to Israel since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

Shad Murib, the state party chair, hopes the resolution will create a “safe space for dialogue” within the party.

“We have members from a variety of different perspectives on the conflict who have come together to talk about how we can support an end to the conflict in the Middle East,” he said. The resolution was not his idea, but he has worked with its proponents on the language, he said.

The resolution will pass if it’s approved by a majority of the committee members who attend Monday’s virtual meeting. The committee includes hundreds of people who are members of the party’s various county organizations around the state, as well as Democratic elected officials. 

The issue has been building for Democrats throughout the war. Rep. Iman Jodeh, the first Palestinian-American state lawmaker in Colorado, said that she has heard "horrific" rhetoric within the party. "It's left me feeling incredibly lonely, and betrayed by some people who I thought shared my values around human rights," she said.

In November, Murib sent a letter trying to lower the temperature. “No doxxing,” he urged members, telling them not to publicize each other’s addresses and phone numbers. “Please treat each other with a generous serving of love, respect, and grace,” he urged.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Abdullah Elagha speaks during a protest, call for a ceasefire in Gaza as Gov. Jared Polis gives his annual State of the State address inside the Colorado State Capitol. Jan. 11, 2024.

That letter also had one big message: Murib urged local party organizations not to make any official statements on the war, instead leaving it to the state party.

State party officials have been working on that response for months now.

“It's been a difficult issue,” said Joshua Trupin, state party secretary, who is Jewish. “We want to really make sure that the party has a balanced statement that basically comes from the party itself, rather than having a bunch of groups going off and passing something that's one-sided and inflammatory from either direction.”

The war in Gaza was an immediate result of the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, in which gunmen killed about 1,200 people in Israel and took 250 hostages, according to Israeli data cited by the BBC.

The Israeli military response has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians so far, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, numbers cited by the U.N., which said most of the dead were women and children. Israel’s government last month estimated that 30,000  Palestinians had been killed, saying that 16,000 were civilians.

The Colorado Democratic Party resolution declares: “All human life is precious and all humans have the right to exist in an environment free of violence, famine, and fear,” and that “Israelis and Palestinians all deserve the right to sovereignty, freedom, and security.”

“I was raised by my parents to acknowledge the plight of Palestinians. I was raised to be mindful of this antisemitism and how much persecution our Jewish friends have felt over the year,” Murib said, noting that he is Arab-American.

Two politicians whose relationship captures the divide

Epps said the party has been intolerant of criticism of U.S. support for Israel.

“You are not going to be allowed to stand up for liberation and for Palestine without being punished,” she said before the primary. 

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Shouting “from the river too the sea Palestine will be free,” demonstrators disrupted the opening day ion the 2024 Colorado General Assembly before being escorted from the Capitol by State Troopers, on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024.

Rep. Steven Woodrow, who is Jewish, represents another view in the party. He said that Epps’ criticism had alienated voters who didn’t feel they were being listened to. Epps angered some colleagues last November when she shouted from the House balcony that another Jewish lawmaker, Republican Rep. Ron Weinberg, was “out of order” as he gave a speech broadly defending Israel. (Epps said Weinberg wasn’t speaking specifically to the bill or to a debate about state divestment from occupied territories.)

“I think it was a reaction to how the conversation has played out so far,” Woodrow said of Epps’ primary loss.

Epps dismissed that criticism, saying that she had opened herself to anyone who wanted to talk with her. She heard most frequently from constituents, including Jewish people, who wanted her to speak up for Palestine, she said.

More broadly, Woodrow said he is one of only a few Democrats who have “called out the far-Left for its antipathy toward Israel.” That includes a “nearly daily drumbeat from the far Left that Israel is a white settler colonial state bent on genocide and ethnic cleansing, that AIPAC has bought and controls our government, and that they wish for a global intifada,” he wrote in a text.

Woodrow recently posted messages of support for an Israeli raid that rescued four hostages but which resulted in nearly 300 deaths of Palestinian people according to Gazan health authorities. Many were killed by an Israeli bombardment as the hostages were evacuated, the AP reported.

“If you don’t like how hostages are rescued don’t take them,” Woodrow posted on X soon after the operation, drawing rebukes from two local Democrats. But he said recently that he celebrated the hostage rescues “while acknowledging that all deaths in this conflict are horrible," adding that he has called on Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to resign and criticized Israel's bombings.

Now, Democratic politicians hope the draft resolution could offer a way forward for the party. Epps and Jodeh both support the resolution, though they wish it went further. Woodrow said he hadn't yet read it.

“I need to delve into it…..  I'm encouraged by every statement that calls for peace. The war is terrible. The fact that it's ongoing is awful,” Woodrow said, adding: “Certainly more dialogue is better than less.”

Editor's note: This article was updated June 27, 2024 with additional comment.