Denver Leverages Ties to Beat City Council Motion

Jewish Federations across the US and Canada continue to mobilize their communities to lead efforts to counter one-sided city council resolutions that call for an unconditional ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas and fail to hold Hamas accountable for the war and the devastation in Gaza.

While these resolutions generally have no direct legislative impact, they provide groups hostile to Israel the opportunity to deliver their messages to the public, influence the thinking of local elected officials, and create a momentum that could impact other decision-makers on city, state and federal levels. 

Our team at Jewish Federations of North America has provided guidance to the field in the form of resources, training sessions, talking points and crisis communications support and by connecting Federations with one another for sharing of best practices.

In Denver, Colorado, Federation President & CEO Renée Rockford and JCRC Director Dr. Dan Leshem worked closely together in a months-long effort to combat a one-sided resolution before the Denver city council.   

They learned about the introduction of the resolution immediately after it was introduced, thanks to an existing relationship they had with a pro-Israel member of the city council.  They mapped out a strategy based on the guidance of the city council member who advised them to answer the following questions: 1) What do you see coming? 2) Who are the players against you? 3) Who is on our side and able to be convinced? and 4) What do you want from the city council?

The Federation mobilized community members with influence to engage the other members of the city council. The Federation’s approach was not just to overturn the resolution, but to work with the city council members to help them navigate this issue in a peaceful and respectful manner, and to follow the council’s recommendations for how the Jewish community should work to counter this resolution. “We know that these community leaders have little interest in the animus brought by protestors. Working to forge relationships ahead of time, and then providing guidance and partnership in these difficult moments has been just one of the ways we have mitigated the impact of these contentious actions by the opposition,” said Rockford.

For example, the Federation learned that anti-Israel protestors were planning a major rally that would take place during the city council meeting.  The Federation was advised by the council members not to attend the meeting or hold a counter rally.  JCRC Director Dr. Dan Leshem mobilized the leadership of the Jewish community to coordinate efforts and ensure that there was full community agreement not to send representation to the meeting.

Ahead of the meeting, Federation leadership held one-on-one conversations with every member of the council to strengthen the relationship and to establish trust. They explained that this resolution was deeply polarizing and was not about peace.  After the meeting, which was disrupted by unruly anti-Israel protests, Federation leadership sent personalized letters to each member of the council that expressed their dismay over the chaos and thanked them for their guidance.

Members of the Jewish community spoke during the public comment session held a few days later. JCRC Board Chair Matt Most applauded the members of the city council for their service and spoke of the physical and emotional implications such a divisive resolution would have on members of the Jewish community in Denver.  He also urged the city council members to recognize the complexities that Israel faces. He said, “Israelis are left with a series of impossible choices to achieve security. They face a terrorist organization that is unambiguous about its intention to eliminate Israel and all of its citizens ‘from the river to the sea.’ That same organization hides in schools, hospitals and under the very earth where civilians live.  On October 7th Israelis came face to face with that evil, and it is indeed terrifying.”

At the following city council meeting, the Federation invited members of the community to attend and speak.  When the JCRC Director and Chair spoke, they were booed by anti-Israel protestors who were so unruly that the meeting was shut down and forced to conclude in private. The meeting ended with the city council rejecting the resolution with a final vote of four in favor, eight voting against and one abstaining. Following the vote, JewishColorado issued a statement in concert with other Jewish organizations that praised the city council’s decision.     

On the night of the victory, three nearby cities reached out to Federation leadership for support with problematic city council resolutions in their own jurisdictions, and the Federation worked with them to successfully reverse the resolutions. 

The most important piece of advice Leshem recommends is to build relationships with members of the city council before an incident occurs.  “Even having one or two trusted contacts in every city council across the state can go a long way,” he said.