Dear friends, I know the story is one month old. Originally, I wrote this piece for an adult ed class. As an afterthought, I decided to later post the material.
On October 3, 2009, the Daily Telegraph of London printed an article claiming that the world’s greatest anti-Semite, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has a Jewish background. But wait, it gets better yet! The article purports that Iranian dictator comes from a line of weavers–yes, tallit-weavers–who changed their names recently, to prosper in the Islamic Republic. Apparently, it is alleged, Ahmadinejad converted to embrace Islam after his birth. At first the story seems to make sense. Jewish history is full of famous “Jewish anti-Semites”
One the surface, such a case would not be unusual for Jews. Noam Chomsky is one obvious example of a modern-day Jewish anti-Semite, but he is hardly alone. Jewish liberals often identify with the enemies of Israel. Such news is hardly an epiphany, but we–as Jews–are often our own worst enemies, as seen by the Neturei Karta and anti-Zionist Rabbi Yisrael Dovid Weiss, who describes Ahmadinejad as “a man of peace and a friendly leader.”
Historically, One of the most well-known Jewish anti-Semites was the medieval Spanish convert to Catholicism, Tomás de Torquemada, whose anti-Jewish passion caused misery to countless Jews of his time. Then again, Karl Marx is another such example of a self-hating Jew. It seems that nobody bows down lower than a neophyte–whether the new faith happens to be Catholicism, Communism, or Islam.
The cartoon character Pogo said it best, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”
As much as one might want to believe that the English rumor is true, there is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate this sensational claim.
Professor David Yeroshalmi, author of “The Jews of Iran in the 19th Century,” dismisses the Daily Telegraph’s argument. He explains, “There is no such meaning for the word ‘sabour’ in any of the Persian Jewish dialects, nor does it mean Jewish prayer shawl in Persian. Also, the name Sabourjian is not a well-known Jewish name,” he stated in a recent interview. In fact, Iranian Jews use the Hebrew word “tzitzit” to describe the Jewish prayer shawl. Yeroshalmi, teaches at Tel Aviv University’s Center for Iranian Studies, also contends that the name-ending “-jian” is not necessarily any indication whether he comes from a Jewish family or not; such name endings are fairly common among Muslim families as well.
Still, what if the story is indeed true? Inquiring minds want to know, or at least believe it is true. When news stories come out like this, it pays to always consider the source. English newspapers typically read like tabloids—just follow their coverage on Israel.
Is there a subtext to this story? Perhaps. It seems to me the originator of the rumor wants to lampoon the little man from Iran before the world—perhaps in the hope that others will also start ridiculing him—and especially in Iran. Humor is often a powerful political weapon for oppressed peoples. Now, wouldn’t be nice to see more shows like Saturday Night Live satirize Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, much like Jewish comics did in Europe as Jews faced extermination. Yes, humor is a powerful weapon, and while there is probably no basis for this new theory concerning Ahmadinejad’s background, one can be certain that Ahmadinejad’s foes across Iran and in the Middle East will use this accusation as a means of belittling Ahmadinejad in the eyes of the Muslim world.
The picture below depicts Ahmadinejad showing papers during the recent election which might indicate his family’s previous name was Jewish.