Who is Claudia Sheinbaum and how did she make history in Mexico?

Who is Claudia Sheinbaum and how did she make history in Mexico?
Mexico has just elected Claudia Sheinbaum, its first-ever woman and Jewish president. But who is Sheinbaum, and what are her views on Israel-Palestine?
4 min read
03 June, 2024
Sheinbaum made history on Monday by becoming the first-ever female president of the North American nations [Getty/file photo]

On Monday, Claudia Sheinbaum was voted as Mexico’s newest president following an election that saw the highly-accredited scientist win around 60 percent of the vote.

Sheinbaum made history by becoming the first woman president, and the first of a minority faith, in the Catholic-majority country.

She is also the first woman president in North American history, after she won against another woman candidate, Xochitl Galvez.

But who is the scientist and life-long leftist?

Sheinbaum was born in Mexico City in 1962, to a family of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish descent, who emigrated from Lithuania and Bulgaria in the 1920s and 1940s. Born to a family of scientists, Sheinbaum grew up in a secular Jewish household but celebrated milestone holidays with her grandparents.

She was elected as mayor of Mexico City in 2018, considered to be the second highest political position in Mexico, and a stepping stone towards the presidency.

The president-elect is known as 'La Doctora', owing to her numerous academic credentials and achievements.

Sheinbaum holds a doctorate in energy engineering from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), where she studied physics and also worked after she obtained her PhD.

Prior to her political career, she was a researcher in the engineering field at several institutes in Mexico.

Active in student politics, Sheinbaum also went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize for her co-authoring a report presented at the UN on mitigation of climate change.

Her foray into politics came at the turn of the new millennium when she was appointed as the Secretary of the Environment of Mexico City until 2006.


In 2015, she became the first woman elected head of the Tlalpan district of Mexico City, serving until 2017, before becoming the city’s mayor one year later.

But where does she stand politically?

Sheinbaum is a member of the left-wing political party, Moreno, the largest in Mexico.

Moreno, which stands for Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (National Regeneration Movement), espouses an ideology supporting human rights and diversity in the country. The party, founded in 2011, opposes neoliberal economic policies.

Sheinbaum identifies as a feminist and supports wider reproductive and LGBT rights.

Her predecessor, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, her longtime ally, implemented social welfare programs which lifted many Mexicans out of poverty, making their leftist Morena party favourite in the polls.

Political experts told CNN and other US outlets that the country’s security issues, exacerbated by the drug cartel scene and high homicide and femicide rates, will be among Sheinbaum’s many challenges ahead.

Is Sheinbaum pro-Palestinian?

However, little is known about her foreign policy, with her potential views regarding Israel and Palestine put under the microscope once she assumes office in October.

All eyes will be on Sheinbaum as Israel continues to wage a military onslaught in the Gaza Strip, killing over 36,000 Palestinians in almost eight months.

Several Latin American countries, notably Brazil and Colombia, have expressed fervent support for Gaza, condemning Israel's acts as genocide, while others, such as Argentina, have spoken in favour of Israel.

Last week, Mexico announced it sought to join South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, filed in December last year at the International Court of Justice.

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In its application, Mexico stressed on "the deliberate obstruction of access to humanitarian assistance" and the "destruction of cultural heritage" as elements that should be considered in the case.

Mexico said "Genocide can be carried out during armed conflict", adding that "the core of the crime of genocide lies in the perpetrator’s intent to destroy the targeted group".

Sheinbaum's most well-known stance on Israel and Palestine dates back to 2009, when Israel carried out a three-week war on the Palestinian enclave.

In a letter to the editor of La Jornada, a Mexico City newspaper, she said: 

"Because of my Jewish origin, because of my love for Mexico and because I feel like a citizen of the world, I share with millions the desire for justice, equality, fraternity and peace, and therefore, I can only see with horror the images of the state bombings". 

"No reason justifies the murder of Palestinian civilians. Nothing, nothing, nothing, can justify the murder of a child."

Following her election on Monday, several pro-Palestinian activists posted an image of Sheinbaum donning a Palestinian keffiyeh, which is emblematic of Palestinian identity, and posing with an unidentified man wearing a t-shirt that says Palestine. The date and the occasion of the photograph, however, remain unknown.

Some pro-Palestinian activists in Mexico have ruled out any "substantial change" in relation to the country's stance on Israel and Gaza, as the war continues.

One activist told the Spanish-language newspaper EFE: "I think she will continue to maintain this speech of ceasefire and genocide, but she will not be forceful regarding a severance of ties with Israel."