2 Jewish women clash in South Florida congressional race


PALM BEACH, Fla. — Just two years ago, right-wing provocateur Laura Loomer was making headlines for being banned from social media and rideshare services for her anti-Muslim and anti-migrant rhetoric. 

Now Loomer, who is Jewish, is facing off against Lois Frankel, the Jewish incumbent in Florida’s 21st District, which includes Palm Beach and not so incidentally President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. It’s tied with New York’s 10th CD, which covers parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, as country’s most Jewish district. Trump has endorsed Loomer and his campaign is helping her out.

Frankel is a paragon of the American Jewish community’s liberal majority. Loomer is a poster child for an angry right-wing minority long marginalized by the Jewish establishment.

“We’re putting the Jews on trial here in District 21,” Loomer said. “They have a choice between a Republican Jew who is going to advocate for their survival in their best interests, or they can stand with self-hating Jew Lois Frankel, who is doing the bidding for the jihadists in the Democrat Party who are just literally walking Jews to the gas chamber.”

A video ad released last week calls Frankel “meshuggah” for praising Black Lives Matter.

Alan Sherman, a Reform spiritual leader who has lived in the area for decades, calls it a contest “between a young Jewish woman and an old Jewish woman, the future and the past.” Loomer is 27 and Frankel is 72.

Sherman, who says he backed Frankel when she was mayor, now supports both Loomer and Trump.

Loomer in the past has declared herself to be an “Islamophobe” and celebrated the deaths of Muslim migrants in Europe. She has been banned from social media and the ride services Uber and Lyft for calling on them to ban Muslim drivers.

“I find the word Islamophobe to be a little bit of an oxymoron right because, you know, phobia is defined as an irrational fear, and I don’t really think that it’s irrational for a Jewish woman to have concerns about Islam,” Loomer said. “I mean, women are treated less than animals in Islam.”

Frankel says she’d rather be talking about the issues that would typically preoccupy a South Florida campaign.

“We have a lot of seniors here,” she said. “They’re concerned about Medicare and Social Security. Florida is a hot spot for COVID.” Her constituents are, she said, “people, you know, who want to try to get their lives back and get back to work.”

Instead, Frankel realizes she must push back hard on the divisive rhetoric that Loomer is pressing in her campaign.

Loomer’s video ad this week, which invoked Holocaust imagery, drew outrage from the Anti-Defamation League, which called it “disgusting,” and the American Jewish Committee which said in a tweet, “If we are working on our Yiddish, Laura Loomer, this ad is a complete and ‘utter shande’,” or disgrace.

Just days after the ad’s release, Pro-Israel America, a nonpartisan political action committee launched by two former senior AIPAC officials, endorsed Frankel. The endorsement was notable because the PAC is known for assisting candidates who face challenges from rivals who are cool on Israel. Loomer, who calls herself a Zionist and attended the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem while on a tour with a right-ring group, The United West, is staunchly pro-Israel.

The Republican Jewish Coalition also is not backing Loomer. Its director, Matt Brooks, declined comment, but the RJC in this election cycle vocally denounced some extremist Republicans. On Thursday, Loomer released a statement blasting the RJC for failing to endorse her, saying she is “ferociously pro-Israel.”

Loomer said she has drawn support from individual RJC board members, including Bernie Marcus, the Home Depot founder.

The district’s GOP is backing Loomer, and Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara campaigned for her last week. Heading into the primary, Loomer had the endorsement of one of the state’s leading Trump-adjacent Republicans, Rep. Matt Gaetz. Fans waved her posters at a pro-Trump rally in Palm Beach.

Loomer, acknowledging that she is running from behind, says she can win and describes an asymmetric tactic, forcing her opponent to do battle on the territory Loomer prefers. Asked about a range of issues affecting the district, she pivots to the national issues that have riven the country.

Questioned about the pandemic and the economic shutdown it has engendered, she skillfully segues into “law and order,” although the protests against police brutality that have engulfed other cities have barely registered in this district.

Loomer wants Frankel to explain her mentoring of freshman Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, one of “the Squad” of progressive lawmakers that also includes two House members who have endorsed boycotts of Israel. Frankel has made it a custom to shepherd through young congresswomen from the party’s left and more centrist wings in their first term.

As of July 29, Loomer had outraised Frankel $1.16 million to $857,000, although Frankel, who has leftover cash from previous campaigns, has more funding on hand. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes elections, does not list the district among its competitive races. Still, Frankel is taking nothing for granted, even while conceding she was not fully into the campaign until now.