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Behind the Headlines the Disquiet of Mexican Jews

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This is a time of disquiet for Mexico’s Jews. They are nervous uneasy and to no small degree bewildered by their government’s zig-zag policy toward the Middle East–complimentary to Israel one day, supportive of the Palestine Liberation Organization the next.

Jews here are also worried about the attitudes expressed in the daily press. The boycott by Jews from the United States and Canada in response to Mexico’s vote in favor of the UN General Assembly resolution branding Zionism as racism is blamed for the serious slump in this country’s tourist industry.

The newspapers fail to point out what Minister of Tourism Julio Hirshfield Almada himself has confirmed: That Mexico has lost non-Jewish as well as Jewish tourists from the U.S. and Canada this winter because of exhorbitant prices and poor service in many resorts.

OCCUPY HIGH POSITIONS

It must be said that apart from Mexico’s ambiguous position on Israel and Zionism, Mexican Jewry still enjoys good relations with the authorities. There is no discrimination against Jews in colleges and universities. Jews occupy high positions in the fields of science, commerce, industry, administration and in government.

The new Mexican Ambassador to the United Nations, Roberto Rosenzweig Diaz, is of part Jewish ancestry. Ironically, his previous post was Mexico’s Ambassador to Egypt. The Minister of Tourism, mentioned above, is also partly Jewish. And the former Foreign Minister, Emilio O. Rabasa has a Jewish mother whose maiden name is Mishkin.

Mexican Jewry is, in short, well off. But like the Jewish communities of the United States and Canada, it identifies strongly with Israel. Its feelings of apprehension began last August when President Luis Echeverria visited 14 countries in the Americas, Africa and Asia, among them Israel. In the African and Arab countries he made pro-Arab statements. In Alexandria he embraced PLO chieftain Yasir Arafat and promised to permit the PLO to open an office in Mexico City.

GOVERNMENT’S ZIG-ZAG POLICY

In Israel later, Echeverria visited kibbutzim and villages. He made pro-Zionist statements and vowed Mexican-Israeli friendship. This calmed the nerves of some Mexican Jews. But in November, Mexico joined the pro-Arab majority in the General Assembly’s Third Committee and later in the Assembly itself to condemn Zionism along with apartheid as a racist movement. Once more, Jews here were dismayed.

Echeverria tried to make amends. He dispatched then Foreign Minister Rabasa to Jerusalem for a rapprochement with Israel. Rabasa laid a wreath on Herzl’s tomb. He explained Mexico’s vote in the UN as a political necessity and affirmed that Mexico was not anti-Zionist and that it valued its friendship with Israel. The Israeli authorities seemed to accept his explanations. But Jews here believed that were it not for the tourist boycott by U.S. and Canadian Jews, Echeverria would not have sent his Foreign Minister on a conciliation mission.

Rabasa found himself in trouble as soon as he returned. The Mexican press attacked him for apologizing to Israel and thus compromising the nation’s honor. Some papers found it necessary to mention that his mother’s name is Mishkin.

Rabasa resigned under pressure. His successor, the new Foreign Minister Alfonso Garcia Robles, stated that there was no change in Mexico’s foreign policy or in its friendly attitude toward Israel. But it was Robles who, as Mexico’s UN envoy, cast his country’s vote in favor of the anti-Zionist resolution.

Last week, an Israeli delegation arrived here to negotiate the implementation of agreements for cultural and scientific cooperation between Mexico and Israel that were arranged last August between President Echeverria and Premier Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem. The delegation was warmly received.

But Jews here are still uneasy. It is very difficult to be on good terms with both God and the Devil. Mexico’s flirtation with the Arabs, while attempting to reassure Israel, resembles the precarious performance of a tight-rope walker. He may fall, and Mexico’s Jews are wondering which way?

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