He wants Israel to disappear; he has questioned the Holocaust; he believes Zionists pull the financial strings in the world. Many Jews would probably rate him public enemy number one. But could President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be hiding a secret?
According to reports circulating in cyberspace, the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran may have Jewish roots — and this is not an early Purim jest.
The websites attribute the claim to a blog in Farsi purportedly written by Mehdi Khazali, the son of a prominent conservative, Ayatollah Khazali.
According to the website of Radio Free Europe’s Radio Liberty, Mehdi Khazali wrote of recently learning that the president had Jewish roots.
He reportedly noted that Ahmadinejad had changed his family name from Saborjhian and said the origins of the name should be investigated.
But experts on Iran were sceptical. Dr Raza Molavi, executive director of Durham University’s Centre for Iranian Studies, reacted with amusement. “Academics usually treat this with a pinch of salt. Unless they have valid first-hand documentary evidence, anything they say would just be a guess.”
Dr Nima Mina, lecturer in Persian at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, believed the story might be a political insult intended by opponents to discredit the president.
“Ahmadinejad and the circle around him have a background in the defence and security network. There is a strong faction that is extremely antisemitic — it is not a question of being anti-Zionist. People who create these rumours are trying to hit them with their own weapons,” he said.
A British Jew with links to Iran, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s such a wild idea. If he came from somewhere like Mashhad [Iran’s second city] where Jews were forcibly converted in the early 19th century, it would have some plausibility. But Saborjhian is not a typical Jewish surname. With Jewish surnames you normally get some kind of Jewish thread.”
Four years ago, a Guardian article reported relatives of Ahmadinejad saying that the family name had been changed for religious and economic reasons.
A cousin still living in Ahmadinejad’s birthplace in Aradan, 80 miles south-east of Tehran, was quoted as saying: “Moving from a village to big cities was so common and widespread at that time that perhaps people, not wanting to show their roots, would change their names. Some people were more religious and chose names to reflect that.”
London’s Iranian Embassy was not able to provide any enlightenment. Dialling its listed telephone number only elicited the response: “This number has no mailbox.”