The barrier separated those leaving the Global Conference for Israel at the Colorado Convention Center from those protesting the conference outside of the building, embodying the division that the Israel-Palestine conflict has brought to the Mile High City and the world at large.
Running through December 3, the conference comes nearly two months after Hamas militants killed over 1,200 people in a surprise attack on Israel, resulting in an Israeli military response that has left more than 13,000 Palestinians dead. Around a hundred demonstrators from the Colorado Palestine Coalition rallied outside of the conference, holding "Free Palestine" signs and chanting "No Zionists on Denver streets" and "Not in our city."
"We want to shut down the conference, and that didn't come to be," says Natalie, a protest organizer who declined to provide her last name. "We hoped that our city would do better, that our city would show up and denounce a Zionist conference."
Demonstrations against the conference began the evening of November 30, when hundreds of protesters shouted, chanted and banged on the convention center's windows, hoping their noise would drown out the speakers inside.
The conference continued as planned, though, with Governor Jared Polis delivering opening remarks to around 1,000 attendees.
"There is a lot of pain, and it’s made worse by the fact that we’re seeing the rise of anti-Semitism and hate in America and across the world," said Polis, Colorado's first Jewish governor. "If anyone asks why the world needs a Jewish state of Israel, the evidence is now more self-evident than ever before."
The annual conference — held in Boston last year — was planned before the Israel-Hamas war began, and focuses on Israeli projects that address issues such as water scarcity and food insecurity, organizers told Axios. But protesters accuse the Jewish National Fund-USA of supporting policies that displace and harm Palestinians.
The Jewish National Fund did not respond to requests for comment from Westword. The press was blocked from entering the conference on December 1.
Dozens of members of Jewish Voice for Peace attended the protest that day, calling for an end to the "occupation of Palestine" and a permanent cease-fire in the war. A weeklong cease-fire to release hostages had ended that day.
"We as American Jews refuse to be silent and are calling for our government to end their support of the Israeli state," says Siena Mann of Jewish Voice for Peace. "'Never again' means never again for anyone. We do not believe in a version of safety that is based on the dispossession of others, the displacement of others."
Jewish Voice for Peace and a group of Muslim protesters led the demonstrators in prayer ceremonies for their respective religions to mourn the loss of life in both Gaza and Israel. But the moment of solidarity didn't last long.
As the religious ceremonies went on, groups of protesters peeled away from the crowd and lined the fenced walkway leading out of the conference.
Muslim and Jewish protestors holding prayer ceremonies outside of the conference. pic.twitter.com/nQYAMMQtIf— Hannah Metzger (@hnmetzger) December 1, 2023
As people exited the convention center, pro-Palestine protesters yelled, "Fuck Israel," "The whole world hates you" and "Go fuck yourself." A few attendees responded with "Get a job" or "This doesn't help anything." One attendee called the protesters "downies," a derogatory term referring to people with Down syndrome.
"These people, we're not going to convince each other," says Efraim, a conference attendee who declined to give his last name. "The conference is very positive overall. ... I don't really understand why they're over here trying to protest our conference. We're not focusing on the war; we're focusing on helping the Jewish communities thrive. I find it a little bit offensive, these people saying 'Fuck you' to me."
The protests are scheduled to continue through the end of the conference on Sunday, December 3; there was also a rally at the Colorado Capitol on Saturday.
Natalie says she's inspired to protest for her family members in the West Bank, adding that the tension and violence in their area is increasing by the day.
"We'll be out here every day," Natalie says. "We're not going to let our politicians continue to fuel and speak on things that are not what the people want. The people are saying to cease fire and support the Palestinian people."