What Happens If Ahmadinejad Is Jewish?

A sensational article sparks an ethno-political debate around the question: "What if Iran's leader has Jewish roots?"

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This weekend, Britain's Telegraph served up a real pearl of a headline: "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed to have Jewish past." Scrutinizing photos of the notoriously anti-Semitic leader's ID card, they reported that his original surname was Sabourjian--"a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver."

Could the most outspoken opponent of Israel in fact be a Jew? While many relished the irony, a few established journalists refuted the Telegraph's shocking claim. Still others explored the nature of the term "self-hating Jew."

  • He's No Jew, writes The Guardian's Meir Javedanfar: "In fact, they are proud Shias. The reason that Ahmadinejad's father changed his surname has more to do with the class struggle in Iran. When it became mandatory to adopt surnames, many people from rural areas chose names that represented their professions or that of their ancestors. This made them easily identifiable as townfolk. In many cases they changed their surnames upon moving to Tehran, in order to avoid snobbery and discrimination from residents of the capital." Adding to that, Radio Free Europe's Golnaz Esfandiari says the bogus claim was devised by Ahmadinejad's opponents: "The claim about his background should be seen in the context of a growing rift among the president's political allies...in the run-up to the June presidential election."
  • But What If He Was? asks Time's Joe Klein: "That may explain a few things. A certain amount of overcompensation, for starters. I mean, in the annals of self-hating Jewry, this really makes David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel--so accused by Bibi Netanyahu--look like pikers." Another blogger adds, "He wants to be 'more Catholic than the Pope'; or, in this case, more antisemitic than the mullahs." This sort of legitimizes an Israeli offensive against Iran, says The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto: "One could argue that the Jews have some sort of collective responsibility to deal with a rogue nation led by one of their own."
  • Speaking of Self-Hating Jews, It's a Flawed Notion, writes The Guardian's Antony Lerman: "The Jewish self-hatred accusation assumes that there is a correct manner and degree to which people should express their Jewish identities in public; and that there is a particular set of core values and institutions which one should favour. Neither of these assumptions is justifiable on the basis of Jewish teachings or Jewish history."
Jewish self-hatred is an entirely predictable phenomenon. It ain't easy being Jewish, and it hasn't been easy for a while, at least since Saul became Paul, and certainly since the Jews of Arabia said no thank you when Muhammad offered them his own vision of monotheism. Some Jews, the weaker ones, adopt the culture and outlook of their oppressors. Some do it sincerely, because they have internalized the anti-Semitic calumnies hurled at them, and others do it for cynical reasons, such as career advancement. Others do it because they are scared, and so assume that associating themselves with anti-Semites will afford them some kind of protection. I have no idea if Moody's roots are Jewish, but it's immaterial in any case.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.