(JTA) — Former Mexican President Vicente Fox apologized to the Jewish community after dismissing political opponent Claudia Sheinbaum, a frontrunner in the developing 2024 presidential race, as a “Bulgarian Jew.”
Fox, a right-wing populist and former Coca-Cola executive who was president of Mexico from 2000 to 2006, frequently critiques the country’s current left-wing president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, in public appearances. Last week, he complained in an interview about López Obrador’s move to stop monthly pension payments for retired presidents by using a derogatory slur to call out “lazy” people who “don’t belong in the government or in the country,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Sheinbaum and other leaders of López Obrador’s Morena party condemned Fox’s comments. Fox then tweeted out rebuttals, calling Sheinbaum a “Bulgarian Jew” and Marcelo Ebrard, a former foreign minister also in the Morena party, a “French snob.”
Fox is a frequent provocateur whose National Action Party is conservative and has strong ties to the Catholic Church. “The only Mexican is Xóchitl!” Fox added, referring to his preferred presidential candidate Xóchitl Gálvez, a National Action senator.
Sheinbaum’s father’s family immigrated from Lithuania and her mother’s family immigrated from Bulgaria. Ebrard is a descendant of French immigrants.
Fox later apologized, writing, “I have a profound respect for the Jewish community.”
The episode highlighted how Sheinbaum, who rarely discusses her Jewish heritage, is already dealing with questions about her identity at the start of what will be an intense fight for her party’s presidential nomination. The L.A. Times reported that she has been derided as a “foreigner” in political discourse and that she recently tweeted out her birth certificate in response.
Sheinbaum became Mexico City’s first Jewish mayor when elected in 2018. Her popularity has soared since then, and she decided to leave the post to run for a presidential nomination against the incumbent in her party. She has emerged as the main competition for López Obrador in Morena, which is expected to name a nominee in September for next year’s election.
If elected, Sheinbaum would be Mexico’s first Jewish and first woman president.
Sheinbaum, 60, was also previously a well-respected physics and engineering professor who helped the United Nations research climate change.