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Jewish groups, conference organizers address safety concerns ahead of Denver Global conference

Police prepare for Global Conference of Israel
Police prepare for Global Conference of Israel 02:56

Just hours before portions of 14th Street were set to close around the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, caution remained among members of the Jewish community as protests are set to begin through the weekend during the Jewish National Fund USA's annual Global Conference for Israel.

"Passions and tensions are running really high," said Dan Leshem, Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council with JewishColorado.  

This is the 22nd year of the JNF USA Conference, but the first time the event is taking place in Denver.

"I know JNF USA is taking every precaution they can to make sure everyone feels safe," said Cheris Kline Berlinberg.  

Kline Berlingberg is a Board Member of JNF Future Mountain States. JNF Future is part of the JNF USA 501c nonprofit that engages young philanthropists ages 22-40. Some of those members of JNF Future will be among the roughly 3,000 people attending this weekend's conference. 

"The overall goal [of the conference] is to understand the strength and the spirit of those people supporting Israel and the importance of the work of JNF USA but also the importance of perpetuating these democratic ideals that we all hold so dear," said Kline Berlingberg.  

A spokesperson for the Colorado Palestinian Colation spoke to CBS Colorado over the weekend about the upcoming protests, set to take place in response to the global conference as ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza.  

"We welcome people to come in and join. But our message is that we are here to educate people and we are here in peace," said Abdullah Elagha, with the Colorado Palestinian Coalition.  

However, some of the language in the group's announcement raises concerns for people attending the conference as it  calls on protester to shut it down.

"There's also a huge concern among the Jewish community that to be able to get to participate in this conference, they're going to have to walk by a gauntlet of people who are very agitated and very worked up and who it seems like they want there to be some sort of confrontation," said Leshem.  

Leshem and JNF USA organizers encourage peaceful protests about the ongoing war in Israel and Gaza, but hope that passion does not end in violence upon people in Colorado.  

"This could turn into a very volatile situation. I know that the Denver Police Department, the FBI and law enforcement organizations are taking this incredibly seriously and it's a shame," said Leshem. "I think one of the most tragic outcomes could be if we here are replicating the violence and lack of dialogue that's happening there. I think we can be a model." 

 Another concern for those in the Jewish community ahead of this weekend is safety for students with the Denver Public Schools district who may be participating in walk outs hosted by protestors against the conference.  

"We don't like to see groups that aren't on campuses calling for students to come off campus, I think that they are exposing them to a potentially dangerous environment," said Leshem. "I'm afraid that students might find themselves in the middle of situations where they're unsafe and where they can't control or stop what's happening around them." 

A DPS spokesperson sent the following statement in response to concerns about protests ahead of this weekend: 

Denver Public Schools is proud to have a diverse student body that represents a wide range of backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. This diversity is one of our greatest strengths, and it is what makes our schools such a vibrant and enriching place to learn and grow. 

DPS is committed to creating a safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their backgrounds. We will not tolerate any form of violence, discrimination, harassment, or hate speech directed at any individual or group. Our commitment to equity and inclusion extends to everyone, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that each of our students and staff feel supported, valued, and heard. 

We respect our students' right of free speech and their ability to peacefully protest. 

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

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