The landslide election in Mexico Sunday of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador raises numerous questions about how the ardently left-wing, anti-establishment candidate will govern.
What policies will he adopt toward US President Donald Trump? How will Mexico orient itself regarding the rest of Latin America? How will he tackle Mexico's staggering homicide rate (29,000 people killed in 2017), one of the highest rates in the world? How will he deal with the country's economy?
For Israel, however, the key questions is whether he will continue the policies of his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto, policies which have led a veritable Golden Age in Israel-Mexico ties.
While Jerusalem is reflexively wary when left-wing governments take over in various countries around the world, this does not necessarily bode ill for relations with the Jewish state, as evident by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ left wing government in Greece that has maintained – and even moved forward – the close ties established with Israel by his more conservative predecessor.
“The relations between Israel and Mexico are really now at a peak,” Dina Siegel Vann, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Belfer Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs, said in a phone interview from Washington.
She said this was manifest in unprecedented business ties and cooperation between the two countries; regular high-profile visits, the most important being Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trip to Mexico City last September; and the changes in Mexico's voting pattern at the UN.
For instance, Mexico abstained both in the December vote in the UN General Assembly condemning the US for moving its embassy to Jerusalem, and in the vote in the same body last month condemning Israel for the violence in Gaza and calling for the protection of the Palestinian civilian population. In the past they have generally voted against Israel in these types of votes.
“The question is whether he will continue on that track, or if he will harken back to the time when Mexico was part of the Third World and non-aligned movement, ” Siegel Vann said.
Siegel Vann, a native of Mexico City who immigrated to the US in 1997, said it was simply “premature” to predict how things will go. “It is very confusing at this point. We have to wait and see,” she said.
At the same time, the AJC authority on Latin America said that there was some “good news.”
First, she said, is that the Mexican Jewish community, a very Zionist community of some 45,000 people, has ties with the president elect that go back to the days when he was the mayor of Mexico City in the early 2000s.
“They met him on the campaign trail and sensitized him to their concerns,” she said.
Second, she said, “relations between Israel and Mexico today are based not only on values and history, but also on clear interests -- there is a lot of value added that Israel brings to the table for Mexico.”
That “value added,” she explained, is that Mexico has invested heavily in Israeli companies, and Israel has also invested in the Mexican economy. For example last year the Mexican petrochemical giant Mexichem bought Israel's iconic drip-irrigation company Netafim for some $1.5 bil., and Israel's Teva pharmaceutical company bought Mexico's pharmaceutical giant Rimsa for $2.3 bil.
In addition, she said, the aid that Israel swiftly sent to Mexico following the devastating earthquake there last year is something that the country remains grateful for.
“There is now a connection based on mutual interests,” she said. “I think that at every level you see that the relationship is quite close.”
Siegel Vann, who said that the question of Mexico’s relationship with Israel played no role at all in the election campaign, said Obrador has no track record on Israel, nor has he spoken widely about it. He has not travelled widely outside of Mexico, and has never visited in Israel.
“He is not interested too much in foreign affairs,” she said. “He is much more interested in Mexico itself, in looking inward and trying to bring about change inside Mexico.”
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