Who is Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico’s first Jewish and woman president?

Claudia Sheinbaum was elected as Mexico's first woman and Jewish president Sunday in a landslide victory, receiving over 60% of the vote.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JUNE 03: Presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum of ''Sigamos Haciendo Historia'' coalition speaks after the first results released by the election authorities show that she leads the polls by a wide margin after the presidential election at Zocalo Square on June 03, 2024 in Mexico City, Mexico. According to the Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE) over 100 million people were allowed to vote on the 2024 Presidential Election in Mexico. Claudia Sheinbaum of 'Sigamos Haciendo Historia' coalition will become the first woman president of Mexico. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images)

Claudia Sheinbaum was elected as Mexico’s first woman and Jewish president Sunday in a landslide victory, receiving over 60% of the vote.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – JUNE 03: Presidential candidate Claudia Sheinbaum of ”Sigamos Haciendo Historia” coalition gives a speech after the first results released by the election authorities show that she leads the polls by wide margin after the presidential election at Hilton Hotel on June 03, 2024 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

Sheinbaum, a climate scientist, is the daughter of Carlos Sheinbaum Yoselevitz — an engineer and businessman whose parents fled Lithuania in the early 1900s — and Annie Pardo Cemo — a biologist of Bulgarian descent.

Sheinbaum didn’t talk much about her Jewish heritage during the election. In recent years, she has said in interviews that she never really belonged to the Jewish community and grew up removed from that identity, only celebrating the Jewish holidays at her grandparents’ homes.

However, she’s also noted that while she may be secular, Jewish culture is “in your blood.”

With Sheinbaum’s election, Mexico is the largest country to have a head of state with a Jewish background at 127 million. The only other countries with Jewish leaders are Ukraine’s Vlodomyr Zelensky and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu

ISTANBUL, TURKIYE – JUNE 4: An infographic titled ‘Mexico’s first female president: Claudia Sheinbaum’ created in Istanbul, Turkiye on June 4, 2024. In a historically significant presidential election in Mexico, Sheinbaum was elected as the country’s first female president, defeating her closest rival by a margin of 30 percentage points. (Photo by Mehmet Yaren Bozgun/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Sheinbaum’s Judaism was used to delegitimize her Mexican heritage

While Sheinbaum didn’t place a focus on her Jewish identity during the election, some of her rivals did.

In one attack, former president Vicente Fox Quesada called Sheinbaum a “Bulgarian Jew” in a post claiming that only the candidate he supported, Xóchitl Galvez, was “actually” Mexican. Sheinbaum responded by sharing a photo of her birth certificate and writing “I am 100% Mexican, proudly the daughter of Mexican parents.”

Quesada also called Sheinbaum “Jewish and foreign at the same time.”

The former president later apologized for the posts, saying he has “deep respect” for the Jewish community.

Sheinbaum’s Jewish background was questioned shortly after she won the election. She thanked her husband, Jesús María Tarriba, for his support throughout the campaign. However, a firestorm erupted on X as people attacked Sheinbaum for thanking who they thought was the religious figure Jesus and not a real person, accusing her of being an undercover Christian.

What does Sheinbaum think about Israel?

Sheinbaum’s position on Israel is unclear as she has not spoken out much about the current war in Gaza.

In past statements, Sheinbaum has condemned IDF strikes in Gaza, but she’s also met with Israeli officials and pro-Israel organizations. She’s previously called for a two-state solution.

However, her party has taken an anti-Israel stance throughout the war and has vowed to recognize Palestine as an independent country.

Sheinbaum is a member of the liberal Morena party, the same faction as current president and Sheinbaum’s political mentor Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – 2024/06/03: Mexico’s President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, shows a slide of Claudia Sheinbaum’s overwhelming victory with 58% against her competition, candidate Xochitl Galvez with 26% during a briefing conference at National Palace. (Photo by Luis Barron/Eyepix Group/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Obrador has spoken out against Israel during the war in Gaza, accusing Israel of genocide, comparing Israel to the Nazis, and raising the idea of cutting diplomatic ties.

Right after Oct. 7, Obrador said that Mexico didn’t want to “take sides” and called for a peaceful solution.

Sheinbaum condemned the Hamas attack, but added that she agreed with Obrador’s position.

“Of course we must condemn any form of violence and particularly this form of violence, attacking innocent civilians, and at the same time I also agree that violence should cease and that the two states be recognized,” said Sheinbaum at the time.

Sheinbaum’s main rival, Galvez, attacked her for not saying anything about the Mexican citizens who were taken hostage by Hamas, asking Sheinbaum “Could it be that they haven’t given you permission?”

Mexico’s Jewish community remains unsure about Sheinbaum

Some members of Mexico’s Jewish community have felt uneasy about Sheinbaum’s positions. 

“She was Mexico City’s mayor in the past, and we hope she will do good things for Mexico, but especially that she’ll stand with Israel. She speaks Yiddish and grew up in a Jewish home,” Rabbi Dudi Caplin, head of the Chabad House in Cozumel, Mexico, told Ynet.

“The Jewish community is concerned, but for years the community has been in very good contact with the government, and Jews are in very important key positions in the country.”

Magen David Synagogue in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Caplin expressed hopes that Sheinbaum would take a clear position supporting Israel. 

“She hides her Jewish side very deeply; she doesn’t talk about it and she’s not married to a Jew either. We believe there probably won’t be very big changes happening in Mexico’s internal affairs, but matters related to Israel are what interest the whole community right now, to see where it goes.”

Other members of the Jewish community are skeptical of Sheinbaum because she is not involved in the vibrant Mexican Jewish community, which overwhelmingly is in Mexico City — the city she was mayor of. 

For many Mexicans, Sheinbaum’s Judaism was irrelevant to their decision of whether or not to vote for her. Most pointed to her social and economic policies when explaining why she earned their vote.

Supporters of Mexico’s presidential candidate for the Morena party, Claudia Sheinbaum, wait for her at Zocalo Square on election day in Mexico City on June 2, 2024. Claudia Sheinbaum was set to be elected Mexico’s first woman president, exit polls showed, a milestone in a country with a history of gender-based violence. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP) (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images)

Even Jewish newspapers in Mexico reported on her win as historic mainly due to her being the first woman president and not because of her Jewish identity.

Director of the Jewish Documentation and Research Center of Mexico Tessy Schlosser told the Associated Press that many Mexican Jews do not accept her as a Jew because she has made a point to distance herself from that identity.

“Claudia has actively tried to say: ‘This is not me,” Schlosser said. “It must be respected when a person does not want to be identified in one way or another.”

The Jewish community in Mexico is centuries old, dating back to Spanish colonization in the 1500s.

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