Late in 1991, leaders of the Mexican Jewish community had a rare audience with the country’s president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
Toward the end of the meeting, Salinas announced that he had just instructed the Mexican delegation to the United Nations to vote to rescind the infamous 1975 U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism.
Salinas’ decision was a direct reversal of Mexico’s stand 16 years earlier.
The meeting was an emotional high for Mexico’s 50,000 Jews, as much for the honor of having been invited by the nation’s chief executive as for the nature of his announcement.
“I almost cried,” recounted Mario Nudelstejer, executive director of the Jewish Central Committee, which, in a sharp departure from its resolutely low profile in national politics, had discreetly lobbied for the reversal of Mexico’s earlier anti-Israel vote.
Mexico’s Jews are nearly unanimous in their praise of Salinas for his astute leadership, economic reform program and friendliness toward the Jewish community.
While there are no Jews in the country’s Senate and Chamber of Deputies, for the first time Jews have been named to high government posts under the Salinas administration.
The president’s favorable attitude, though genuine, carries as a subtext the realization of his top economic-foreign policy priority: Approval by the U.S. Congress of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which would tear down trade barriers between Mexico, the United States and Canada.
Passage of NAFTA — which has considerable opposition among American lawmakers — before the expiration of Salinas’ term next year is an almost obsessive preoccupation among Mexican officials.
The Jewish angle in all this rests on a naive but firmly held equation: Mexico’s Jews are closely linked to their brethren in the United States, who are believed to influence American government and society. Therefore, the wisdom holds, if Mexico’s Jews can win over American Jews, the NAFTA deal is as good as done.