Jewish Woman Elected President of Mexico

Jewish Woman Elected President of Mexico

Sixty-one-year-old Claudia Sheinbaum was formerly the mayor of Mexico City and a leading Mexican climate scientist.

Claudia Sheinbaum is the first Jewish woman to be elected president of a major nation of almost 60 million persons // Photo Credit: Times of Israel/AFP
Claudia Sheinbaum is the first Jewish woman to be elected president of a major nation of almost 60 million persons // Photo Credit: Times of Israel/AFP

Mexico elected its first woman president, Claudia Sheinbaum, and the first Jewish person to ever hold that office. The presidential election, which was held June 2, was a landslide victory for the 61-year-old Sheinbaum, whose grandparents were Jewish immigrants to Mexico. Her father was the son of Lithuanian parents, who came to the country on a wave of Jewish immigration in the 1920s. Her mother was the daughter of Sephardic Jews who fled Bulgaria in the 1930s before the Holocaust.

In that respect, they mirrored the development of the Jewish community in the last hundred years which was built around immigrant populations with roots in the Jewish Ashkenazic populations of central and eastern Europe and the Sephardic communities of the Eastern Mediterranean. She succeeds outgoing president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a popular leader, who was constitutionally unable to succeed himself. In acknowledging her victory, she acknowledged her own history.

“I do not arrive alone,” she said. “We all arrived, with our heroines who gave us our homeland, with our ancestors, our mothers, our daughters and our granddaughters.”

Dina Siegel Vann is the American Jewish Committee’s Latin Affairs expert.

For experts, like Dina Seigel Vann, a former leader of the Mexican Jewish community and the founding director of the American Jewish Committee’s Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs, Sheinbaum’s election is an important sign of the growing political maturity of the Jewish community in Mexico.

Although there are only about 59,000 Jews in a population of 50 million, she believes Sheinbaum’s election is indicative of the influence of the community, which has developed a sense of self-importance that has been growing for the last 40 years.

“For a long time, the Jews felt they were really outsiders. They were minorities in many ways. But starting in 1988 there was a big change in Mexico. Society as being much more diverse in every way, and the Jewish community suddenly started having a much stronger footing and began feeling much more self-confident.”

Sheinbaum’s family, which considered themselves cultural but not religious Jews, were both scientists and leftist in their political outlook. Her mother taught at Mexico City’s National University and Sheinbaum became active in the left-wing student movement at the school. She completed her PhD in energy engineering at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and was part of a team that received a Nobel Prize for their work in climate science.

She was elected mayor of Mexico City in 2018 as a member of Obredor’s Morena Party, which over the last decade has become a powerhouse in Mexican politics. It’s the nation’s largest political party and Sheinbaum’s victory cements its role as an important force in hemispheric governance. Yet, despite her Jewish heritage, according to the AJC’s Seigel Vann, Sheinbaum has never spoken about her rise in a country where Jews are less than one percent of the population.

There are approximately 59,000 Jews in Mexico.

“I think it is quite telling that she never changed her last name. I’m glad she did, but why did she keep a name so blatantly Jewish You know, she’s never spoken about it, but I’m sure over a glass of wine, she can tell you a lot of stories about her rise in politics and in the left in Mexico and the difficulties of being Jewish,”

Sheinbaum takes over a country that has faced growing challenges from organized crime and the drug cartels that frequently have assassinated several political leaders.

Earlier this year, ProPublica, the American investigative online website, detailed what they described as “substantial evidence” by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that cocaine traffickers had made $2 million in political contributions to López Obrador, the outgoing president and Sheinbaum’s political mentor. In response, the Mexican President demanded an apology from President Joe Biden.

Latin American political affairs are one of the important topics the American Jewish Committee took up during its Global Forum from June 9-11 in Washington, D.C. Attending the conference were 150 participants from Atlanta and AJC Southeast region.

On the agenda was a closed-door meeting with the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and a roundtable discussion about the important trilateral issues facing the United States, Israel, and the countries of Latin America. Also scheduled was a remembrance of the 30th anniversary of the devastating terrorist attack in Argentina on the Jewish community’s headquarters in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured 300.

The agenda was one indication, according to Dina Siegel Vann, of the growing importance of both Mexico and elsewhere in the region.

“Latin America cannot be an afterthought, It’s our neighborhood. And whatever happens in Latin America affects us all. And we are, you know, we are dependent one and the other.”

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