Claudia Sheinbaum will be Mexico’s first Jewish President

Mexico elected the first Jewish president over the weekend, a notable step forward in a country with the world’s largest Catholic population.

Yet if this is a watershed moment for Mexico, it is overshadowed by another: President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum will also be the first woman to lead the country.

There is another reason why there is relatively little discussion of her Judaism.

Ms. Sheinbaum, 61, rarely discusses her legacy. In doing so, she tends to convey a more distant relationship with Judaism than many others in Mexico’s Jewish community, which extends from its own Mexican roots to the present day. the number is about 59,000 in a country of 130 million people.

“Of course I know where I come from, but my parents are atheists,” Ms. Sheinbaum told The New York Times in a 2020 interview. “I never belonged to the Jewish community. We grew up a little bit removed from that.”

Ms. Sheinbaum’s parents were both leftists and involved in science, and she grew up in a secular family in Mexico City in the 1960s and 70s, a time of significant political upheaval. told in Mexico.

“The way she embraced her Mexican identity, from a very young age, was rooted in science, feminism,” said Tessy Schlosser, historian and director of the Center for Jewish Research and Documentation in Mexico. social and political activities.

Additionally, Ms. Sheinbaum’s story of migration, as a descendant of Jews who immigrated to Mexico in the 20th century, “does not carry any political capital” in a political society. politics where candidates often allude to their mestizo or Indigenous origins, Ms. Schlosser said.

Ms. Sheinbaum’s father, Carlos Sheinbaum Yoselevitz, a businessman and chemical engineer, was the son of Ashkenazi Jews who fled Lithuania in the early 20th century. Her mother, Annie Pardo Cemo, was a biologist and teacher. professor emeritus at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, is the daughter of Sephardic Jews who fled Bulgaria before the Holocaust.

But while Ms. Sheinbaum (pronounced SHANE-balm) downplays her ties to Judaism, her origins remain completely unnoticed, revealing currents of xenophobia and anti-Semitism Thaiism persists beneath the surface of Mexican politics.

After emerging last year as a presidential candidate, Ms. Sheinbaum faced “birthplace” attacks that questioned whether she was born in Mexico or even Mexico.

Among those leading the attacks against her is Vicente Fox, a former conservative president who was call Ms. Sheinbaum a “Bulgarian Jew.” Ms. Sheinbaum responded by releasing a copy of her article birth certificate detailing her birthplace as Mexico City. “I am 100% Mexican, the proud daughter of Mexican parents,” she said.

However, Ms. Sheinbaum’s candidacy has attracted the attention of Mexico’s Jewish community as well as a series of reactions to her political rise from Mexican Jews.

While Jews first arrived in Mexico in 1519, at the time of the Spanish conquest, and continued into colonial times to escape persecution in Europe, their numbers increased dramatically. in the 20th century. A large number of Jews in Mexico originated from Syria, while others came from other parts of the Ottoman Empire or former Europe.

According to a 2020 census, Mexico remains predominantly Catholic with nearly 100 million Catholics and 14 million Protestants. But Mexican Jews have long had a prominent role in public life, including as television journalists like Jacobo Zabludovsky and Leo Zuckermann; writers like Margo Glantz and Enrique Krauze; and politicians like Salomón Chertorivski, a progressive who lost his race for mayor of Mexico City this year.

Sabina Berman, a Jewish writer and journalist, was among prominent Mexican Jews who sided with Ms. Sheinbaum, calling her “disciplined” and a “wonderful candidate.”

But such endorsements have not been unanimous, reflecting skepticism among some in Mexico’s Jewish community about the leftist political leanings of Ms. war Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

In one example, Carlos Alazraki, a famous advertising executive, speak that Ms. Sheinbaum was “completely resentful” of poor people because she was raised by parents he called “communists.”

“Her envy of the middle class and above is impressive,” he said. “She is full of hatred.”

More broadly, Ms. Sheinbaum also faced criticism during the election campaign, accused of using religious figures to connect with Catholic voters. After she met Pope Francis, her opponents questioned her beliefs and embraced her previous views. image she wore a dress with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, an extremely important figure in Mexican Catholicism.

“We both had a meeting with the pope,” said Xóchitl Gálvez, her leading rival in the race. “Did you tell the Holy Father that you cross-dressed with the Virgin of Guadalupe even though you don’t believe in her or in God?”

Pressed after such attacks to say whether she believes in God or not, Ms. Sheinbaum speak“I am a woman of faith and science,” she said, accusing Ms. Gálvez of not respecting the separation of church and state, a central tenet of Mexico’s political system.

A more nuanced picture of Ms. Sheinbaum’s identity emerges from some of her own statements in the past. “I grew up without religion, that’s how my parents raised me,” Ms. Sheinbaum speak a gathering organized by a Jewish organization in Mexico City in 2018. “But culture is clearly in your blood.”

She told Arturo Cano, her biographer, that she celebrated Yom Kippur and other Jewish holidays with her grandparents, but “it was more cultural than religious.”

Like other secular Jews in Mexico, Ms. Sheinbaum also said she was not forced to marry according to her faith. “It’s not like ‘you have to marry a Jew’ like it was with my mother,” Ms. Sheinbaum told The Times.

Writing in a Mexican newspaper, Ms. Sheinbaum said her grandfather left Europe because he was “Jewish and communist” and her maternal grandparents escaped “Nazi persecution.”

“Many of my relatives from that generation were exterminated in concentration camps,” she said in a speech. letter to the editor of La Jornada from 2009, in which she also condemned what she described as the “murder of Palestinian civilians” during Israel’s bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Since the war broke out last year, Ms. Sheinbaum has condemned attacks on civilians, called for a ceasefire and said she supports a two-state solution.

It remains to be seen how, as president, she will navigate Mexico’s position on the war, an increasingly controversial issue in the country.

Just last week, protesters were pro-Palestinian conflict with police outside the Israeli Embassy in Mexico City, and the Mexican government moved to support South Africa’s lawsuit at the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide.

Emiliano Rodríguez Mega Contribution report from Mexico City.


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