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Pro-Palestinian protests move from streets to state capitals for rowdy start to legislative sessions

By Valerie Richardson | The Washington Times | Thursday, January 25, 2024

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

DENVER — State legislatures wield little, if any, influence over U.S. foreign policy, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that from the pro-Palestinian demonstrators converging on state capitols.

Crowds of anti-Israel activists are spilling from the streets and universities into the chambers and rotundas, greeting lawmakers at the start of the 2024 legislative sessions with noisy demonstrations and demands for cease-fire resolutions.

The protesters aren’t always mindful of the rules of decorum. Rarely are state legislatures halted by protests, but rowdy pro-Palestinian demonstrators forced the California and Colorado legislatures to stop business on the first day of their sessions.

Assemblyman James Gallagher, Republican Caucus chairman of the California Legislature, said the last time he could recall a chamber adjourning over a protest during his 10 years in the Capitol was in 2019 when a lone vaccine activist threw a bloody object onto the Senate floor.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this, in terms of a very organized effort that was designed to just keep shouting and chanting until you couldn’t actually conduct business,” Mr. Gallagher, a Republican, told The Washington Times.

In Colorado, the House recessed while State Patrol officers ejected demonstrators shouting pro-Palestinian slogans from the gallery. The next day, protesters outside the Capitol in Denver were so loud that they could be heard inside the chamber during Gov. Jared Polis’ State of the State address.

The Colorado Palestine Coalition mocked those criticizing the protests. Members said “other attendees in the gallery were upset that we disrupted their little ceremony” but vowed to “continue increasing the frequency, intensity and size of our actions until there is an end to the suffocating occupation of Palestine.”

State Rep. Ron Weinberg, a Republican, predicted that “this is going to happen continually” during the General Assembly session.

“If it wasn’t for strenuous precautions for the State of the State with our governor, there would have been interruptions,” Mr. Weinberg said. “We had a huge, huge disruption outside of the building because, guess what, they didn’t allow anyone in.”

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, was interrupted three times during her Jan. 16 State of the State address by anti-Israel and climate change protesters. As the unruly activists were escorted out of the chamber, she refused to condemn them. She said it was necessary to “embrace differences of opinion.”

“I want you to do a round of applause, even though it’s a disruption, that the world is complicated,” Ms. Lujan Grisham told the legislative gathering.

Little evidence indicates the noise and drama have changed minds. About 60 state bills and resolutions have been introduced to support Israel and condemn Hamas, and serious consideration of a pro-cease-fire bill is unlikely in any state legislature.

Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, said those calling for state and municipal cease-fire resolutions “know that it will have no bearing on U.S. foreign policy.”

“A cease-fire and peace are everyone’s wish,” Ms. Rothstein said in a statement. “However, a cease-fire that has Israel holding its fire while Hamas — which has threatened to repeat the actions of October 7 — reloads its weapons, is a promise for more terror, bloodshed and tragedy.”

At least eight state legislatures overwhelmingly approved pro-Israel resolutions in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on civilians. In October, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a measure, without dissent, “condemning Hamas’ barbaric attack against Israel.”

If anything, the raucous pro-Palestinian protests have only reinforced the views of pro-Israel lawmakers. On the first day of the California legislative session, 16 Assembly Republicans introduced a resolution condemning Hamas and the Oct. 7 attack.

“From my standpoint, I’m not going to do anything that [the protesters] want,” Mr. Gallagher said. “We’re not going to call for a cease-fire now and ignore the atrocities of Hamas. That’s not happening. It certainly won’t happen if I have anything to say about it.”

The Arizona Legislature approved a concurrent resolution this month supporting “the nation of Israel in its efforts to defend itself and its citizens from terrorism” over the objections of protesters outside the Capitol in Phoenix.

Sympathy for the protesters on the legislative left has created headaches for Democrats.

Colorado House Speaker Julie McCluskie issued a formal letter of reprimand this month to state Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a Democrat, for violating six House rules after she joined a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the House gallery that shut down proceedings during the November special session.

Ms. Epps also shouted “Free Palestine” at the end of a speech at the lectern. Another Democrat, state Rep. Tim Hernandez, replaced the American flag on his desk with a Palestinian flag, Colorado Politics reported.

No arrests were made during the protest at the California Assembly, which adjourned after hundreds of demonstrators unfurled banners in the rotunda and chanted “cease-fire now.” The Colorado House also recessed as State Patrol officers ushered out dozens of noisy activists.

Those frustrated by the stoppage included California state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat and co-chair of the Legislative Jewish Caucus.

“Protesting is a good thing,” Mr. Wiener told reporters afterward, according to the Courthouse News Service. “Shutting down the democratic process is not a good thing.”

Republicans blasted the Democratic majority for not doing more to discourage the protests. They predicted more disruptions unless the Legislature takes a stand.

“There was chaos and a lack of any leadership to remove these people who are clearly impeding the government process,” Mr. Gallagher said. “We were back for our first day of the Legislature, and even though they were instructed to cease chanting, they just continued to do it and basically shut down the Legislature the first day. And there was really no effort to remove them. It was just like we let them shut down our business.”


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