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Mahmoud, Mishpacha!

UPDATED: London ‘Telegraph’ says Iran’s president is Jewish; ‘Guardian’ disagrees

Allison Hoffman
October 05, 2009
Ahmadinejad in New York for the U.N. General Assembly last month.(Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)
Ahmadinejad in New York for the U.N. General Assembly last month.(Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the weekend, the London Telegraph reported that Iran’s Holocaust-denying, Israel-hating and evidently nuke-seeking president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is secretly a Jew—making him, potentially, the most self-loathing Jew who ever lived.

Versions of this story have been kicking around for a while. Radio Free Europe posted an item in January citing Mehdi Khazali, the pro-reform son of a prominent conservative ayatollah, who apparently called for an investigation into Ahmadinejad’s origins in a blog post. (Khazali was arrested this summer amid the fierce opposition protests that accompanied Ahmadinejad’s re-election, and the link to his site is now dead.) And there’s this anonymous video post, dating back to last fall, that actually accuses Ahmadinejad of being a tool of the Zionist regime, rather than an overcompensating hypocrite—even enlarging his nose to caricature proportions, for effect, in case anyone missed the point. And the Guardian reported back in 2005, when Ahmadinejad was first elected, that the family had changed its name when Mahmoud was still a toddler “for a mixture of religious and economic reasons”—but didn’t draw the Jewish link, or explain what the “religious reasons” were.

So what changed? Well, the Telegraph story cites Ahmadinejad’s identity documents, which he proudly displayed to the press in March. They show his family name was originally Sabourjian (or Saborjhian), which, the story explains, derives from “weaver of the Sabour,” the Farsi name for a tallis. And, to boot, the name is on a list of Jewish surnames compiled by Iran’s interior ministry—so, in other words, according to the paper’s blog editor, it’s “the Persian equivalent of being born Mohammed Greenberg.” So: Mahmoud, how do you say ‘vavoy’ in Farsi?

(By the bye, we were sad that Saturday Night Live punted in its “Weekend Update” sketch featuring Fred Armisen as Ahmadinejad, as usual—but we laughed that much harder when Nasim Pedrad, playing Mrs. Ahmadinejad, joked that “he farts under the sheets, and blames it on Israel.”)

UPDATE: Now it turns out that the folks behind this story might be Iran’s equivalent of the birthers. Middle East analyst Meir Javedanfar writes in today’s Guardian that Ahmadinejad isn’t Jewish and that his father was actually a devout Muslim who taught Koran. Javedanfar cites Tel Aviv University professor David Yerushalmi, who explains that Persians refer to tzitzis as, well, tzitzis, not “Sabour,” as the Telegraph reported, and that “Sabourjian” isn’t a particularly Jewish name, either. No update from the Telegraph, as yet.

Allison Hoffman is the executive editor of CNN Politics.

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