Vitalii Portnikov

The First Jewish Person at the Helm of Mexico

Not long ago, Mexican scholar and activist Claudia Sheinbaum was the first woman and first Jewish person to hold the position of mayor of the country’s capital. Now she has become the first woman and first Jewish person to lead the state! An impressive career for a woman from a family of Ashkenazi and Sephardic origins who met in Mexico! However, Mrs. Sheinbaum rarely mentions her Jewish roots. A few years ago, she spoke about her parents’ atheism and how she has never been part of Mexico’s historical Jewish community.

When Mrs. Sheinbaum takes office, there will be three Jewish presidents in the world – Sheinbaum herself, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, and, of course, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. However, Mr. Zelensky’s recent statements about the Middle East crisis have sparked outrage in Israel, especially among immigrants from the former Soviet Union. It is interesting to consider whether the reaction would have been as severe if the statement had been made by an ethnic Ukrainian president.

As the concept of civic identity evolves, we need to understand a simple truth: stunning political success can only be achieved by someone whom the electorate associates with the majority, not the minority. Mr. Zelensky, like Mrs. Sheinbaum, has never hidden his Jewish heritage but also has not emphasized it. He was raised in a classic Soviet family, far from the Jewish community. Perhaps this fact made him an idol for voters with similar Soviet and non-national upbringing. Similarly, Mrs. Sheinbaum is perceived by her compatriots as Mexican, not Jewish. She reminds us more of Frida Kahlo than Golda Meir.

Therefore, the election of a woman and Jewish president of Mexico is a political revolution that merely confirms the phenomenon of our time: a leader is always a hero of the majority, especially when they win with such an impressive result as Mrs. Sheinbaum or Mr. Zelensky. This means that the voter sees themselves in such a leader and is unlikely to pay attention to their Jewish identity.

About the Author
Vitalii Portnikov is a Ukrainian publicist, writer, TV presenter and member of the Ukrainian PEN. He is also an author and renowned journalist working in democratic media in Central and Eastern Europe for more than three decades. He is the author of hundreds of analytical articles in Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Russian, Israeli, Baltic media. He hosts television programs and his own analytical channels on YouTube. He is currently broadcasting at the office of the Espreso TV channel and continues to cooperate with the Ukrainian and Russian services of Radio Liberty.
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