Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be of Jewish ancestry, according to a report published early October by the Britain’s Daily Telegraph. According to the publication, a high-resolution photograph of Mr. Ahmadinejad holding up his Iranian identity card during elections in March 2008 reveals that his family had converted to Islam from Judaism.
The family name appeared to have been changed from Sabourjian, a Jewish name meaning “cloth weaver,” to Ahmadinejad, a Muslim name, shortly after the President’s birth. The Sabourjians traditionally live in Ahmadinejad's hometown of Aradan and is among the names designated for Iranian Jews by Iran’s Ministry of the Interior.
Several political analysts have said that Ahmadinejad’s anti-Jewish attacks may be an effort to conceal his Jewish past. “This aspect of Mr. Ahmadinejad's background explains a lot about him,” Ali Nourizadeh of the Center for Arab and Iranian Studies said. “Every family that converts into a different religion takes a new identity by condemning their old faith.”
“By making anti-Israeli statements, he is trying to shed any suspicions about his Jewish connections,” he added.
According to the Telegraph, “The Iranian leader has not denied his name was changed when his family moved to Tehran in the 1950s. But he has never revealed what it was changed from or directly addressed the reason for the switch.”
Iranian-born Israeli Middle East analyst Meir Javedanfa, however, denies that Ahmadinejad is of Jewish descent. “As someone who wrote his biography, I can tell you that this claim is inaccurate and would be happy to go on the record to say so. Saborjiyan are people who paint carpet threads. Also, in Iran many Muslims and Jews share the same surname.”
As for Israel, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London said Israel’s position toward Iran has not changed.