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Mexico poised to elect woman president who is ‘uninvolved’ Jew

“She’s not a product of the Mexican Jewish community,” said Dalia Wassner, director of the Jews of the Americas initiative at Brandeis University.

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, Mexico City mayor, presents her first report to the city congress on Sept. 17, 2019. Credit: Octavio Hoyos/Shutterstock.
Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, Mexico City mayor, presents her first report to the city congress on Sept. 17, 2019. Credit: Octavio Hoyos/Shutterstock.

Mexico is slated to elect its first Jewish president on Sunday as Claudia Sheinbaum, the former head of the Mexico City government, heads into the election with a strong lead in the polls.

Experts told JNS that while Sheinbaum is of Jewish descent, she doesn’t participate in the small Jewish community in Mexico or have its backing.

“She’s not a product of the Mexican Jewish community,” Dalia Wassner, director of the Jews of the Americas initiative at Brandeis University, told JNS. “She is a descendant of Jews that immigrated to Mexico, but she herself did not participate in the Jewish community.” 

“Certainly she does not, as an adult, have any kind of involvement or affiliation at all,” Wassner added.

Dina Siegel Vann, a native of Mexico City and director of the American Jewish Committee’s Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs, told JNS that Sheinbaum is not only unaffiliated with the community, but she also is not a ritually observant Jew.

“Zero,” Siegel Vann said of Sheinbaum’s participation in Jewish religious life. “From what we know, no. Zero.”

“She doesn’t deny she’s Jewish, but she doesn’t articulate her Jewishness. She doesn’t wear it on her sleeve,” Siegel Vann added. “It’s not really an issue for her.”

Sheinbaum is running as the protégé and successor of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, widely known by his initials AMLO. Both Sheinbaum and López Obrador share a populist, left-wing politics but have not made Israel and the war in Gaza central to their rhetoric, as some Latin American leaders have.

Sheinbaum’s main rival for the presidency, Xóchitl Gálvez, a former senator, slammed her on Oct. 8 for failing to issue a full-throated condemnation of Hamas.

“I invite you Claudia Sheinbaum to together condemn the Hamas attacks and stand in solidarity with the international Jewish community and with the Israeli and Palestinian people, both victims of terror,” Gálvez wrote in Spanish.

“I regret that you have not yet spoken out even about the Mexicans who are hostages of this terrorist organization,” she added. “Could it be that they have not given you permission?”

Wassner told JNS that the Mexican Jewish community noticed Sheinbaum’s lack of a firm statement about the war. “When one does not make a statement, it’s also a glaring absence,” she said.

Siegel Vann told JNS that Sheinbaum was likely to continue the policies of López Obrador towards Israel, which have included giving the Jewish state a cold shoulder diplomatically and backing the “genocide” case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, but stopping short of breaking diplomatic ties.

“She’s very understated with that,” Siegel Vann told JNS. “She follows what AMLO says. AMLO basically was very lukewarm. He said he wanted peace in the region. He wanted everybody to get along. And that’s all he said. He didn’t condemn Hamas. He sent his Foreign Ministry to do so.”

Either Sheinbaum or Gálvez would also be the first female president of Mexico. 

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo
Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, the head of government of Mexico City, on Aug. 6, 2022. Credit: Octavio Hoyos/Shutterstock.

Positioning of the Jewish community

Siegel Vann and Wassner told JNS that the fact that the potential election of a Jewish woman as president is not a substantial factor in the race is a significant sign of progress for the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country that is often stereotyped as patriarchal.

“Mexico is probably within Latin America among one of the more modern countries in this respect,” Wassner said. “The fact that she’s Jewish is not as significant as one might think because it’s not really an important part of her identity.”

“I’m very proud that Mexico has two women candidates that are running for president. It’s something people would not have believed in a country that many people associate with machismo, and obviously, this dispels that to a large extent,” Siegel Vann said. “We’re talking about a country of 40,000 Jews among a population of 125 million Mexicans.”

“It shows you how much Mexican society has evolved in the last decades in terms of its inclusiveness, its diversity and the positioning of the Jewish community itself in Mexico,” she added.

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