On Friday, Florida Rep. Maxwell Frost announced he had signed on to a resolution calling on the White House to push for a ceasefire in Gaza. He joins a small but growing list, now 18 House Democrats, urging President Joe Biden to help ensure hostages can be safely removed and humanitarian aid can enter the besieged territory.
The move from Frost is notable given his political trajectory. The first Gen Z member of Congress, Frost had been a strong supporter of Palestinian rights ahead of his run for office, participating in a protest for Palestinian rights and supporting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel. But after he got in the race, he became the subject of an intense lobbying campaign by the groups Democratic Majority for Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. When his position paper on Israel–Palestine was ultimately released, his supporters in the Florida Palestine Network saw he had flipped on many of the issues.
AIPAC and DMFI reshaped Democratic primaries in 2022, spending more than $30 million to pummel Democratic candidates they deemed insufficiently supportive of Israel, or to use the threat of the spending to reshape a candidate’s platform on the question of Israel–Palestine. The progressive organization J Street — which defines itself as pro-peace, pro-Israel, and pro-democracy — entered the fray on the opposite side, defending candidates against the onslaught of spending from DMFI and AIPAC, though the resources at their disposal were much more limited.
The group had been planning to raise and spend about $2 million to compete with DMFI. “We’re always gonna expect the right to have more money, given that they’re operating off of the basis of big donors. But that’s a little bit more of a fair fight,” said J Street’s Logan Bayroff of the disparity between J Street and DMFI at the time, expecting the latter to be able to spend at most $10 million. “But now you add to what DMFI is doing $30 million from AIPAC, that’s just in a whole other realm.”
In that new realm, candidates such as Frost in Florida, John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, and Greg Casar in Texas faced intense pressure to adopt a policy platform more aligned with AIPAC and DMFI.
Fetterman, as The Intercept reported last year, allowed DMFI to make edits to his Israel–Palestine policy and adopted those edits, according to Mark Mellman, head of DMFI. Frost, too, was receptive. “Mr. Frost reached out to us to hear our views on Israel related issues,” DMFI spokesperson Rachel Rosen told The Intercept last year. “We had several conversations with him and his team and were pleased to see the way his views evolved on U.S.-Israel policy as he learned more about the substance.”
Now, as the civilian death toll in Gaza mounts, with the Israeli assault showing no sign of abating, Frost has joined the humanitarian ceasefire resolution sponsored by Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., alongside several of her progressive colleagues. “The loss of Palestinian & Israeli civilian life has been unbearable. An immediate ceasefire is needed to save lives and to establish a humanitarian corridor so that aid can get into Gaza and hostages can be safely released,” Frost said on Friday. “I have co-sponsored the Ceasefire Now Resolution to save lives.”
Casar, too, has signed on to the resolution calling for a ceasefire. Like Frost, some of his former allies criticized him during his congressional campaign for what they said was backing off his previous support for Palestine. Casar voluntarily gave up the endorsement of the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America over the issue. Since arriving in Congress, however, he has been among the chamber’s more outspoken supporters of Palestinian rights. Fetterman, meanwhile, has remained a strong defender of the Israeli war on Gaza.
Reps. Barbara Lee, currently a candidate for Senate in California; Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; and Alma Adams of North Carolina, who has traveled to Israel on trips sponsored by AIPAC, have also since signed on.
J Street, in the wake of the brutal assault by Hamas, has resisted calls for a ceasefire, aligning itself more closely with AIPAC than as its counterweight. Yet that posture has been evolving in recent days, said Capitol Hill Democrats, noting a willingness by J Street to allow space to dissent from unconditional support for Israel’s response. The group had previously warned that Democrats who declined to support a hard-line resolution would lose J Street’s support but has more recently backed away from that threat. The organization has also faced pressure from more than 100 former staffers and alumni with J Street University, who wrote the group an open letter urging it to support a ceasefire.
“We still support the resolution,” J Street’s Bayroff wrote in a statement. “Nearly all of congress does, and nearly all our endorsees do. And there have been no changes in our list of endorsees.”
Israel has engaged in a policy of collective punishment in retaliation for the Hamas slaughter on October 7 — which killed more than 1,300 Israelis and foreign nationals, many of them civilians — cutting off water, energy, and imports into Gaza. Under pressure, Israel has turned on some water to some parts of southern Gaza, but the situation remains bleak.
On Friday, Hamas released two American hostages, a mother and her daughter, on what it called “humanitarian grounds.” At least 197 remain in captivity.
Efforts to free hostages have focused on children, women, and the medically infirm. Amir Tibon — a journalist with Haaretz who survived the Hamas assault on his kibbutz, Nahal Oz, after he was saved by his grandfather — reported Friday that the official in charge of hostage negotiations for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been spending his energy blasting Western officials. “This week I had the opportunity to talk with some foreign diplomats who are trying to help the release of our hostages,” Tibon reported. “They came out embarrassed from a conversation with Gal Hirsch, Netanyahu’s man on the subject. Instead of talking about how to promote a move tomorrow for partial release (women-children-patients), he started shouting at them about why they supported Oslo [Accords]. Everything is political in Netanyahu’s office. Only political.”
“Rescuing the hostages and providing humanitarian supplies to Gaza are important priorities, as is disarming and dismantling Hamas,” said Rosen of DMFI. “The Palestinian people deserve to live in peace with security and dignity. Hamas’ brutal rule is antithetical to those aspirations.”
Florida Palestine Network, which had backed Frost before falling out over his evolving stance on Israel–Palestine, acknowledged his call for a ceasefire, calling it “a place to start.”
Update: October 20, 2023, 6:16 p.m. ET
This article was updated to include statements that DMFI spokesperson Rachel Rosen and J Street spokesperson Logan Bayroff provided after publication.