Gen Z progressive says he’s ‘pro-Israel’ and ‘pro-Palestinian’
Maxwell Frost is running in the Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Val Demings
Maxwell Alejandro Frost, a leading Democratic candidate in the crowded race for an Orlando-area House seat in Florida’s Aug. 23 primary, has gained national attention as one of the first members of Generation Z to run for Congress. If he is elected, the 25-year-old gun safety activist would likely be the youngest representative in the House next term.
From a policy standpoint, Frost is also carving out a unique lane for himself on Middle East issues. In a lengthy position paper, for example, he describes himself as both “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestinian,” vowing to engage proactively in “bringing peace to a region that so desperately needs and deserves it.”
The first-time candidate has indicated that he will pursue a nuanced and somewhat more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than one might expect of a staunch progressive who is otherwise aligned with the activist left on such trademark legislative objectives as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.
In a candidate questionnaire solicited by Jewish Insider, however, Frost distanced himself from measures that would penalize Israel, rejecting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as “problematic” while opposing calls to condition U.S. aid to Israel. More broadly, Frost said he is “committed to supporting” continued military assistance that “helps ensure” Israel “can properly defend itself.”
Frost elaborated in his position paper, which was obtained by JI, that he would also advocate for “robust U.S. assistance that benefits the Palestinian people and is in compliance with [the] Taylor Force Act,” referring to a law that withholds aid to the Palestinian Authority on the condition that Ramallah ends payments to families of terrorists. The assistance, he wrote, “serves an essential role in meeting Palestinian humanitarian needs.”
“Our commitment to Israeli security must run parallel to our commitment to ensuring the dignity and humanity of the Palestinian people,” Frost argued.
Freshman Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), who identifies as a pro-Israel progressive, said in an interview with JI that Frost is developing “a “measured, mainstream position on an issue that often generates more heat than light.”
“He approaches public policy with an open mind and an open heart, and that applies to issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the American-Israeli relationship,” Torres said of Frost, whose campaign he has endorsed. “He has deep empathy for the plight of both Israelis and Palestinians. He strongly favors a two-state solution and strongly disfavors anything that undermines a two-state solution, whether it be the delegitimation campaign of BDS or the creation of settlements in the heart of a would-be Palestinian state.”
In order to come closer to achieving a two-state solution, Frost writes in his position paper, the “Palestinian side” must recognize “that Israel has a right to exist” while putting an “end to all terrorism” and “antisemitic rhetoric” as well as the “positions of Hamas and Palestinian political leadership.” Israel, he adds, “has steps it needs to take toward peace,” including “no further settlement expansion and no more evictions or demolitions of homes” in the West Bank.
Keith Dvorchik, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, said he had some “potential concerns” about Frost when they first met to discuss such issues. In particular, Dvorchik admitted to a suspicion that Frost would possibly be “close-minded” because of social media activity during the May 2021 conflict with Hamas in which he had posted about at least one pro-Palestinian rally but made no mention of Israel.
“I was surprised and pleased that he wasn’t,” Dvorchik told JI. “From our first meeting, he didn’t pretend to know everything and really just asked a lot of questions and wanted to learn.”
Dvorchik said he had spoken with Frost during the recent escalation of violence between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and appreciated that he expressed support for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. Frost, he said, “very much wants to visit” Israel if he becomes a congressman. “There’s not a question that he’s a progressive candidate,” Dvorchik acknowledged. “However, he’s very open when it comes to Israel.”
Frost’s campaign declined requests for an interview, but agreed to fill out the questionnaire, which touched on a range of issues concerning Middle East policy as well as the American Jewish community. He did not respond directly to four multiple-choice questions at the end of the survey, offering written responses instead.
Elsewhere, he offered insight into his support for expanding the Abraham Accords, even as he emphasized that fostering ties between Israel and the Arab world should not preclude efforts to promote further diplomacy with the Palestinians.
“While the normalization of relations between Israel and many Arab nations is a great breakthrough for the region and Israel,” he wrote, “we should be clear eyed in our understanding that a truly comprehensive peace between Israel, Palestinians and other countries in the Arab world can only be achieved by resolving the core issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ultimately leads to the creation of an independent Palestinian state that exists alongside Israel.”
Frost also endorsed reentering the Iran nuclear deal, albeit one that he hopes will be “longer, stronger and broader to cover not just the issue of nuclear weapons,” he wrote, “but the full range of destabilizing and threatening actions Iran engages in.”
Frost is among 10 candidates in the race to succeed outgoing Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), who is now running for Senate, in Florida’s redrawn 10th Congressional District. While Frost has led the field in fundraising, the limited publicly available polling suggests that another candidate, state Sen. Randolph Bracy, is better-positioned in the race, owing in part to his high name recognition in the district.
A survey commissioned by the Bracy campaign and conducted in late May put him at 29% among 400 likely Democratic primary voters. Frost, in second, failed to break single digits. Still, more than 50% of respondents were undecided at the time, indicating that the race is mutable. The victor will likely be favored in the general election because the district leans Democratic.
Bracy was among 15 candidates backed by Democratic Majority for Israel in January as part of its first round of House endorsements this cycle. But the pro-Israel group does not appear to have prioritized the race, and a spokesperson said on Monday that DMFI was “not in a position to share anything” about the matchup “at this time.”
For his part, Frost has pulled in a wide range of endorsements from a variety of political action committees and elected officials at the federal level, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as well as Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Mondaire Jones (D-NY) and Ro Khanna (D-CA), among others. On Wednesday, The Orlando Sentinel endorsed his campaign.
Frost, who has said he intends to complete his college degree while in Congress, previously worked as an organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union as well as several political campaigns. He has been an outspoken advocate for gun safety since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting a decade ago. Frost announced his bid for Congress last August.
Despite his lack of experience in the foreign policy realm, Frost suggested that he is committed to engaging with Middle East issues in a substantive manner as a member of Congress. “As a pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian member of Congress,” he wrote in his position paper, “I will do everything in my power to make sure the United States steps up to serve in this critical role.”