colorado chaos

Colorado House speaker apologizes after revoking invitation to hostage families

“I acknowledge I made mistakes in my communication about the visit, and I am sorry for the hurt that caused,” Julie McCluskie told JI

David Zalubowski/AP Photo

Colorado Speaker of the House Julie McCluskie speaks during a rally to unveil an eviction protections bill being advanced by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Denver.

When a delegation of Israeli hostage families came to the Colorado Statehouse last week, they were expecting to be welcomed by both sides of the legislature. But the families received a warm welcome only on the Senate side. Now, the House speaker is dealing with the fallout for revoking an invitation — at the last minute — for the hostage families to appear on the House floor, which has been a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment since Oct. 7.

Speaker Julie McCluskie, in an exclusive statement to Jewish Insider, apologized for pulling back the invitation, as first reported by Colorado Politics, though some members of the House did attend the Senate ceremony. “While I believe we accomplished the goal of our joint ceremony (ensure a respectful and meaningful recognition that honors the message and experience these families came to share) I acknowledge I made mistakes in my communication about the visit, and I am sorry for the hurt that caused,” McCluskie said.

Rep. Yaron Weinberg, a first-term Republican from Loveland whose family resides in Metula, Israel, told JI that McCluskie, a Democrat, had responded positively and agreed to a recognition ceremony on the House floor for the visiting Israelis when first approached two weeks prior to their visit.

“Twenty minutes before they were due to arrive at the Capitol, the speaker called me and said she’s deeply sorry but things have happened to the point where she was concerned about the safety of the family members and didn’t want them embarrassed,” Weinberg said.

“I told her, I trust and understand her guidance as I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, and I didn’t want the families to hear anything about this.”

McCluskie perhaps had reason for caution. In November, during a special session of the Colorado legislature, business on the House floor was disrupted when freshman Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a Democrat, joined pro-Palestinian protesters in demonstrations in the House gallery. The break with House decorum made headlines in Denver media outlets.

Tensions within Colorado’s State House Democratic caucus have continued to simmer, with some far-left representatives joining Epps in displaying Palestinian flags on their legislative desks and donning keffiyehs for selfies on the House floor. McCluskie disciplined Epps with a written reprimand and warning, also dropping her from membership in the State House Judiciary Committee.

Israelis comprising the delegation were: Shahar Mor, nephew of Avraham Munder; Nissam Louk, father of Shani Louk; Yaakov Argamani, father of Noa Argamani; Sharon Kalderon, sister-in-law of Ofer Kalderon; and Ayelet Samarno, mother of Yonatan Samarno; Ofer Shamir, cousin of Dolev Yehoud and Arbel Yehoud. Louk and Samarno have both been confirmed dead. 

Mor told JI that the purpose of the visit was to raise awareness for “the number one humanitarian crisis in the world.”

“This is our overall concern.”

“We received a great deal of empathy from the Colorado politicians,” Mor said of the visit, which began with a breakfast at the Colorado’s Governor’s Mansion hosted by Gov. Jared Polis, who is Jewish.

The Israeli delegation’s visit was coordinated by Israel’s Los Angeles Consul General Israel Bachar.

McCluskie has “since apologized” said Weinberg, “and is doing everything she can this week to make it right, including apologies to Jewish community leaders.”

McCluskie told JI, “I welcome the feedback I have received and have learned from this experience and had many productive conversations with leaders in the Jewish community, I look forward to continuing to learn, support the community and work together to address the rising antisemitism we are seeing in Colorado and nationally.”

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