The Democratic-led Colorado House of Representatives turned away a delegation of Israeli officials and six families of hostages during their visit to the U.S. State Capitol on Monday.
House Speaker Julie McCluskie defended her decision to deny entry to the families of hostages still being held captive in Gaza, citing concerns over anti-Israel members of the White House and possible divisions that could arise by allowing Israeli families who continue to suffer the atrocities committed by Hamas on Oct. 7.
“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 these issues into the chamber would have long-term detrimental impacts on how we are able to work together for the people of Colorado,” the speaker said.
"We must respect the deep personal connections members in this chamber have to this ongoing tragedy," she continued.
House of Representatives lawmaker Ron Weinberg, who is Jewish, said he had prior permission from the speaker for the families to visit the White House floor and sent a press release on Sunday announcing that the delegation would be honored in both the Senate and House.
"The brutality and pure evil of the attack on October 7 have been forgotten, downplayed, or, in some cases, outright ignored by many in the aftermath of these atrocities," Weinberg said.
"We must share the voices of those whose loved ones suffered from these barbaric acts, many of whom remain in captivity or in unknown status at the hands of Hamas terrorists. It is my honor to host these families and have them share the horrors they have had to endure with the leaders of our state."
Despite prior arrangements made on behalf of the Diaspora and Foreign Affairs ministries, the Israeli delegation was not permitted to enter due to McCluskie's order.
After the slight, the delegation was received in the State Senate during a bi-partisan joint session and later met with Colorado's governor, Jared Polis.
McCluskie also arrived at the Senate, along with almost half of the members of the House, to hear Weinberg speak.
Representative Weinberg expressed his indignation regarding the House's decision to deny entry to the Israeli delegation.
"It is outrageous that the Democrats do not trust their own members not to 'embarrass' family members of victims who have been taken hostage by Hamas terrorists," he posted on social media.
Colorado Sen. Dafna Michaelson also expressed her deep concern for the hostages’ families.
"These families have flown all the way from Israel because they know time is limited. Their loved ones' time is short," Michaelson told the Senate.
"And if we don't bring them home now, we don't know that we'll ever get to bring them home. They've flown all the way from Israel to talk to us, to ask us to do whatever we can do, and there are things we can do. We can cry out for help. We are not powerless in this moment."
"It is my endearing hope that we find and bring home the hostages now, and that it can come to peace," the Colorado senator added.
She told reporters that McCluskie's decision reflects “several years of similar decisions by House leadership” and noted that she has attempted to bring forward other resolutions, such as one for Israeli Independence Day but has been denied every time.
The Colorado senator referred to the situation in the House as a "different animal," saying she cannot imagine what McCluskie must be going through since she has decided she cannot welcome these families to the floor.
"I think McCluskie must be under some pressure that I don't understand," Michaelson said. "I'm trying to have grace for the fact that she's under this pressure I don't understand. I'm grateful I'm in the Senate, where I can welcome them to the floor."
During his speech, Weinberg told the Senate this is the second time in six months that the hostages' families have not been given a platform to share their testimonies. He has been working with Colorado's General Counsel to bring the hostage’s stories to the people of Colorado.
"We have endured, since Oct. 7, antisemitic remarks and behavior in these chambers and this building ... and it's hurtful," Weinberg said.
"When injustice occurs, it's the duty of all senators, all House representatives, our governor, and everyone in higher office to take a stand. I urge you to speak to these people and hear their stories.
"I ask you to give these people an opportunity to share the stories, the atrocities being committed. Hamas is a terrorist organization that murders Americans and Israelis alike. That behavior needs to be condemned," he added.
Members of the House and Senate greeted the Israeli visitors following the speeches given by Michaelson and Weinberg. However, McCluskie did not join the receiving line.
In a statement to Colorado Politics, McCluskie said: "Our goal is to foster a respectful environment at all times, both for our honored guests, the people who work in this building, and our members. In the spirit of this objective, today we held a joint ceremony in the Senate where members from both chambers had the opportunity to recognize families of Israelis being held hostage in Gaza and victims of the October 7 terrorist attack."
The Israeli families of hostages that visited Washington on Monday were as follows:
• Shahar Mor: Four family members were kidnapped. Three have been released but their Uncle Avraham Munder, who is in poor health, remains a hostage.
• Nissam Lok: Daughter Shani, who holds a German passport, was kidnapped and murdered.
• Ofer Shamir: Cousin was kidnapped and is still held hostage in Gaza.
• Yaakov Argamani: daughter Noa Argamani was kidnapped and is still in Gaza.
• Sharon Kaldaron: Brother-in-law Ofer and two sons, grandmother, and a special-needs child were kidnapped into Gaza. The grandmother and child were found murdered. The two sons have been released; Ofer remains in captivity.
• Ayelet Smarno: Son Yonatan was kidnapped and murdered.
After the delegation met with Polis, the Colorado governor said: “The unbearable pain these families have faced is hard to imagine, but I’m grateful that they shared their stories and the stories of their loved ones with us here in Colorado."
Polis referred to the loss of innocent civilian lives in the ongoing war as "tragic" and urged for unity to fight hate.
"We are working to create a Colorado for all, where everyone can thrive no matter who they are or what they believe, and today’s visit was a reminder of why that work continues to be so important,” Polis said.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.