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Colorado Jewish Democrats call for an end to "dangerous" rhetoric as Israel-Hamas War divides the party

Colorado Jewish Democrats call for an end to "dangerous" rhetoric as Israel-Hamas War divides the pa
Colorado Jewish Democrats call for an end to "dangerous" rhetoric as Israel-Hamas War divides the pa 03:20

Headed into an election year you expect animosity between Democrats and Republicans. You don't expect Democrats to turn on each other. But that is exactly what is happening as the war in Gaza divides the Colorado Democratic Party.

The latest clash came last week at the Colorado State Capitol. Democratic state Rep. Elizabeth Epps is facing backlash from members of her own party after disrupting a debate on the floor by lashing out at a Jewish colleague. 

Nearly 200 Colorado Jewish Democrats – including elected officials, party leaders, faith leaders, and community members - released a letter the next day calling on their fellow Democrats to stop what they say is not only divisive but dangerous rhetoric, saying it incites antisemitism, divides the party, and puts them and their families at risk of harm. 

"It is heartbreaking when, so many people we have stood side by side with to stand up for are not here for us," said state Sen. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, one of those who signed the letter.

She says she is a lifelong Democrat, but the last couple of months have her wondering if the Colorado Democratic Party wants someone like her -- a Jew.

"We always say we're a big umbrella party. Yes, we are. And Jews are a part of that umbrella. And the question is whether or not we belong there."

Colorado state Sen. Dafna Michaelson Jenet CBS

Since Hamas attacked Israel, Michaelson Jenet, says her social media accounts have exploded with antisemitic posts. But she says the most hurtful rhetoric has come from her Democratic colleagues. 

Democratic State Rep. Tim Hernandez joined a pro-Palestinian rally the day of the attack and the Democratic Black and Latino Caucuses at the Capitol followed up with pro-Palestinian statements.

Michaelson Jenet was already on edge when the special session started and anti-Israeli protestors entered the Colorado State Capitol.

"I took off my name badge. I tucked in my my Jewish star," she said.

But she says she never expected what happened on Nov. 20 when Democratic state Rep. Elizabeth Epps joined pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the House gallery and screamed at state Rep. Ron Weinberg, who is Jewish, as he spoke from the well about how his grandparents survived the Holocaust.

"I am a Jew and through the country right now that is not an easy thing to say," he said. 

Epps continued to yell as Democratic leadership tried to reason with her.

Michaelson Jenet watched it all from outside the chamber.

"My heart hurt," she said.

A week later her heart continues to hurt as Democratic leadership has yet to respond to Epps' outburst.

"I worry that I am not safe in that building, and these things just make it worse," she said. 

In response to a request for comment, Speaker Julie McCluskie released a statement calling what happened, "disappointing, inappropriate, and disrespectful." 

McCluskie went on to say, "I've heard an outcry of frustration and concern about the behavior displaced and am considering what next steps may be in order."

A spokesperson for Gov. Jared Polis also released a statement saying, "Governor Polis is deeply troubled by the rise in antisemitism and islamophobia across Colorado and the world, and targeted violence. As we get closer to the next legislative session, the Governor continues to urge elected leaders – Republicans and Democrats — to disagree better in a civil way that leads to real results for Coloradans."

Epps did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did the Colorado Democratic Party. 

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