How Florida progressive Maxwell Frost courted Palestinians, then abandoned them
Maxwell Frost has made national headlines. After winning the highly contested Democratic primary election for Florida's 10th congressional district in August, the 25-year-old progressive now stands the chance of becoming the first Gen Z member of next year's US Congress.
Arising as a grassroots activist and organiser fighting against gun violence in the US, he stood side by side with Palestinian activists last year during rallies on the anniversary of the Nakba and stood up against the forced evictions of families in Sheikh Jarrah and other parts of the occupied West Bank.
So last year when he thought of running for Congress, Rasha Mubarak, a Palestinian American and grassroots organiser in the Orlando area, saw no reason not to support him.
"Maxwell is someone that I've known for a few years. We organised together, post-George Floyd, in the streets for Black lives and for a free Palestine," Mubarak told Middle East Eye.
"So many young people felt compelled to be a part of his race because of his vocal and bold voice on Palestine, leading many members of the Florida Palestine Network to participate in his initial launch campaign video.
"Essentially, he built his campaign off our pain and our hope to elect another voice into Congress who advocated for a free Palestine."
Frost was embedded in local Palestinian activist circles, and was even in a group chat with all the pro-Palestinian organisers in the Orlando area. He had signed the Palestinian Feminist Pledge, which calls for supporting the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, ending military aid to Israel, and rejecting the conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism.
He also signed a similar pledge from the Florida Palestine Network (FPN), a local grassroots group of pro-Palestinian advocates that was sent to Congresswoman Val Demings, the lawmaker Frost is now set to replace come November.
A copy of both pledges seen by MEE show Frost's name among the signatories.
So when the FPN learned of his decision to run for Congress, they were all in support of him.
"I had initially felt great about Maxwell as a candidate. There didn't seem to be any question about his views on Palestine. I was ready to fully support him. He was a grassroots organiser. And he was in the streets with us every single day," said Lamia Moukaddam, an organiser in Florida who was shown in Frost's first campaign video.
'I was absolutely enraged. I marched alongside this guy every single day for months'
- Lamia Moukaddam
However, over the course of the next year, Frost began to receive more support on a national scale, as well as an influx of pro-Israel endorsements and corporate money from a Crypto PAC that was spending heavily against candidates critical of Israel.
Several organisers who spoke to Middle East Eye shared their experiences of working for and supporting Frost because of his grassroots beginnings, only to have Frost later come out with a position paper that reneged on many of the promises he made to local activists.
"I was absolutely enraged. I marched alongside this guy every single day for months," Moukaddam said before taking a pause. "At a minimum, we had a very high level of camaraderie.
"He had complete access to Palestinian Americans that could give him information and experiences and share with him anything that he may have needed to know or had doubts about."
The kitchen cabinet
Mubarak had been one of the earliest individuals working on Frost's campaign. According to her, Frost came to her when he was considering a run.
Mubarak supported him, knowing Frost's strong record of supporting Palestinian rights. He had been present at rallies in the Orlando area and signed multiple pledges on the issue.
"I actually helped Maxwell build out his campaign from scratch: his kitchen cabinet, which operated as an advisory to the campaign. I connected him with local and national community leaders, stakeholders, and grassroots organisations across the district but also across the state of Florida and across the US."
She also said she helped Frost identify key donors early in the campaign.
Frost's kitchen cabinet, which included a Palestinian voice with Mubarak, would meet on a regular basis to discuss campaign strategy.
For Maram al-Dada, a Palestinian American organiser whose family is originally from Gaza, supporting Frost was a no-brainer.
"In last year's protests, he was literally standing next to me chanting 'free, free Palestine'," Dada told MEE.
"It was refreshing to have this progressive candidate finally here in Florida, and we're gonna go hard to support his campaign, and we did. And we did."
Ritchie Torres endorsement, Crypto PAC money
Things had been going well in the campaign, support was growing and donations were pouring in.
But a few months into 2022, Mubarak and the other Palestinian activists began to harbour concerns with several moves made by Frost's campaign.
One day Mubarak noticed that a post on Frost's Instagram of a pro-Palestine rally was removed. When she brought it up to the campaign, the post was republished, but this time it no longer referenced Mubarak.
Mubarak reached out to Frost demanding to know why her name was removed from the post, and, according to her, Frost said that the Palestinian American's name was taken out "because local endorsements have a problem with your advocacy".
"You're telling me your staff felt compelled - without your decision - to change your caption as part of [a] violent erasure of a Palestinian woman that has been a part of your camp since its inception, because I'm vocal on human rights? On Palestinian liberation?" Mubarak said.
One of the biggest concerns was an endorsement Frost received in March from Ritchie Torres, the "pro-Israel progressive" congressman from New York.
While many progressives in Congress have been more vocal in their criticism of Israel, Torres has often come to Israel's defence and has received funding from pro-Israel groups.
The news came as a shock to many of the Palestinians working on Frost's campaign, given that in their eyes the two politicians’ views were at odds with one another.
Then, organisers saw Frost receive a $1m pledge from Protect Our Futures PAC, a recently created Super PAC headed by 30-year-old billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, who founded the crypto exchange platform FTX.
This Super PAC was spending millions of dollars across the country, and had spent more than a million dollars in support of Congresswoman Shontel Brown - and against Nina Turner, who was vocal in her criticism of Israel, according to Open Secrets.
It also spent another million dollars in support of Valerie Foushie, who defeated Nida Allam, a Muslim American candidate who had been critical of Israel, in this year's Democratic primary in North Carolina.
"We researched a little farther, and we noticed that this PAC literally had hands in every race where there was a candidate critical of Israel," Dada told MEE.
The position paper
Despite the concerns, the Florida Palestine Network continued to support Frost because of a Zoom meeting he held with them in March 2022.
During that meeting, according to multiple people who spoke with MEE, and publicly stated by the Florida Palestine Network, Frost had verbally reiterated his support for Palestinian rights, for the BDS movement, and also pledged again to be in support of ending US military aid to Israel. He also promised to include the Palestinian network's input in any future position paper that he put out regarding Israel and Palestine.
A spokesperson for the Frost campaign confirmed to Jewish Insider that the meeting had taken place but without elaborating said he did "not agree with FPN's accounting of the events".
'We really stood by his side. We literally were in the streets, going and telling people to vote for Maxwell and then all of a sudden we were abandoned'
- Maram al-Dada
Then, just two weeks before the date of the primary election, and several days after early voting was already underway, an article was published in Jewish Insider with a position paper by Frost on Israel and Palestine.
No one that spoke with MEE for this story is aware of who helped create this position paper.
According to the spokesperson that spoke with JI, Frost spoke with a wide variety of "individuals and organizations" as he wrote his position paper, including the pro-Israel group Democratic Majority for Israel.
In that paper, Frost says US military aid to Israel is "one of the most important parts of the foreign aid that we contribute to". It also says the BDS movement "is extremely problematic and undermines the chances of peace".
The position paper, which was his first statement on public record about the Israel-Palestinian issue, opposed many of the promises he made on Palestine, according to the Florida Palestine Network.
"Considering the anti-Palestinian position paper's timing was during early voting, the deceit and betrayal, many people had gone to the polls and to the ballot box, falsely misled to believe he was progressive and unaware in his violent abandonment of Palestinians and our collective liberation struggle," said Mubarak.
Dada said he was completely disheartened by what had happened with Frost's campaign, and feared that all of the work they had done to support him would end up being used against the Palestinian rights for which he and others were fighting.
"We really stood by his side. We literally were in the streets, going and telling people to vote for Maxwell, and then all of a sudden we were abandoned. It just feels - it's really sad."
Frost's campaign did not respond to Middle East Eye's requests for comment on this story.