This reporter and blog were bombarded with e-mails and questions since last night from readers of this blog asking me whether the story published in Britain’s Daily Telegraph’s that Ahmadinejad was born a Jew had any validity. After reading the Telegraph’s original story published yesterday and consulting with a number of local Iranian Jewish scholars with regards to the story’s claims of Ahmadinejad’s supposed Jewish identity, as an Iranian Jewish journalist I cannot verify a single shred of evidence that would suggest this story is accurate in any way. The article lacks any real or credible sources cited that can unequivocally prove that Ahmadinejad had any Jewish roots and it seems as if the story was just leaked to the Telegraph by “reformist” leaders in Iran as a part of a larger smear campaign against the newly “re-elected” hardliner president of Iran.
The article’s authors, Damien McElroy and Ahmad Vahdat claim that “Iranian experts” they consulted with have seen the supposed “Jewish name of Sabourjian –meaning cloth weaver” in a photo of Ahmadinejad’s identity papers from March of 2009. My main problem with this claim about the “Sabourjian” name is that the Iranian Jewish experts, scholars and religious leaders in L.A. I have interviewed today, have never heard of any Jewish family in Iran with such a name. Likewise the handful of English to Farsi dictionaries authored by Solomon Haim (a 20th century Iranian Jewish scholar of Persian language) found at UCLA’s library I have research through today do not identify the word “sabour” as “the name for the Jewish tallit shawl” as both McElroy and Vahdat claim in their article! For that matter, none of the English to Farsi dictionaries I came across even had the word “sabour” nor a definition listed for it! Where these journalists came up with this nonsense about the word “sabour” having a Jewish meaning is beyond me! As an Iranian Jewish journalist fluent in the Persian language for the last 31 years, I have never heard of the word “sabour” uttered by members of my community and the Iranian Jewish community has never used this word as a reference to the Jewish prayer shawl. We Iranian Jews refer to the Jewish prayer shawl by it’s Hebrew name of “seat-seat” (the Hebrew word for the fringes of the prayer shawl) or we use the Hebrew word of “tallit” just like the millions of other Jews living on this planet.
Likewise I also have a problem with McElroy and Vahdat’s supposed expert sources they used in their article who are not even Iranian Jews nor credible scholars with any real familiarity with the subject of Iranian Jewry! The authors of the article list “Ali Nourizadeh, of the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies” in London and some Iranian internet blogger “Mehdi Khazali” as their experts who back the unproven claim that Ahmadinejad was supposedly born a Jew. Both Nourizadeh and Khazali are clearly NOT Jewish and my question as a reader of the article (and not as an Iranian Jewish journalist) is a simple one; why would anyone cite non-Jewish experts unfamiliar with Iranian Jewry as supposed accurate sources on a story about the Jewish origins of a country’s leader? You’d think these journalists would go through some effort to find some sort of a Jewish scholar or expert familiar with Iran to substantiate their claims—but no, McElroy and Vahdat instead rely on Iranian Muslims with no real knowledge of Iranian Jewry to prove their allegations of Ahmadinejad supposed Jewish roots. Therefore the articles authors’ use of these non-Jewish experts who lack any real credibility or knowledge of this topic clearly places the entire accuracy of their overall story on Ahmadinejad into question for me. Iranian Jewish experts I consulted with also said they were unable to read the unclear photo of the Ahmadinejad’s identity papers to properly verify the Telegraph’s story.
Another serious question I have with the accuracy of McElroy and Vahdat’s story is their claim that Ahmadinejad’s alleged Jewish name “is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran’s Ministry of the Interior”. Again I am perplexed at why these seasoned journalists would place any kind of credibility on an official Iranian government document when most experts familiar with the current Iranian regime know very well that any time lists of names are “complied by the Iranian government” they are used by different forces in the regime for nothing more than to attack another official, party or faction in the country. The most classic and detrimental way Iranian government officials have attacked one another is to claim that the “such and such official was born a Jew, or was once a Jew who converted to Islam, or his family was Jewish a generation ago and then converted”. The “Jewish identity label” is your classic textbook example of anti-Semitism at its prime that is thrown around as a type of public insult or verbal assault officials in Iran and in most Islamic nations used against one another in smear campaigns. The Iranian Jewish experts I interviewed this morning in L.A. informed me that for one Iranian government official to call or accuse another government official of being Jewish is the equivalent to individuals or groups in the U.S. to accuse an elected official in America of being a child molester or pedophiliac! This is the sad and unfortunately reality that being a Jew in Iran has a very derogatory meaning.
The negative connotation of claiming that someone Muslim in Iran is Jewish or has Jewish roots brings me to my final analysis of the true origins of this entire Ahmadinejad-Jewish story. Iran experts here in L.A. I recently interviewed said that even before Ahmadinejad, various “reformist” leaders during the “open era” of the past Iranian President Mohammad Khatami during the 1990s and early 2000s were using “Jewishness” as a verbal assault against other rival officials they hated or against other Iranian officials who presumably had Jewish blood. Frank Nikbakht, an L.A.-based Iranian Jewish activist and director of the Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said the accusations Iranian officials make of each other being Jewish is nothing new for Iran’s current regime. “I remember in early 2000 when members of Khatami’s reformist party in Iran accused one of their hardliner rivals, a man named Habibollah Ashkaroladi Mosalman, of having Jewish roots,” said Nikbakht in a telephone interview today. “What we are seeing today with this story of Ahmadinejad being supposedly Jewish is the same smear tactics the reformists have used in the past against their hardliner opponents”. It seems as if even the supposed “reformists” in Iran, who Obama administration officials and other Western leaders have long hail as being supposedly “open-minded”, are also now showing their true anti-Semitic tendencies by vilifying Ahmadinejad with disgusting anti-Semitic rhetoric! Why else would Ahmadinejad be such an evil and horrible dictator trying to take over the world and kill people? He must no doubt be a Jew. Sounds like garbage you might read in the classic anti-Semitic book the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”! (By the way, the Persian language copies of the Protocols have long been best sellers in Iran with more than 400 pages added to the original Russian version published in the 1880s).
As an journalist I am shocked at the lack of accurate reporting and very poor journalism in McElroy and Vahdat’s story regarding Ahmadinejad in this instance. Shame on the Daily Telegraph’s editors for publishing such inaccurate claims with no real experts familiar with Iranian Jewry cited. The reporters and editors at this paper are either completely brainless or stooges and mouth-pieces for “reformists” officials in Iran who have begun this smear campaign against Ahmadinejad. It’s poor journalism like this story that fan the fires of anti-Semitism and hate around the world. Readers and bloggers worldwide should condemn this story published by the Telegraph, call for McElroy and Vahdat’s resignation and write letters to the newspaper about their poor journalism in this instance.
Lastly, even if this story is true (which I highly doubt) it is well known in Iran that those who have converted to Islam over the years have done so because of different family disputes including inheritance rights. According to Iran’s radical Shiite Islamic laws, new converts to Islam who came from a non-Muslim family, can automatically inherit all of their dead non-Muslim relative’s assets without the need to go to probate court and their non-Muslim family members are entitled to none of the inheritances. These new Muslim converts from Judaism (also known as “jadid-ol-eslam” or new to Islam) today and in the past have typically been the most anti-Semitic of Muslims living in Iran.
Were journalists always this lazy?