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Is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Jewish?

If he is not, The Telegraph reports, the bitter critic of Israel clearly has Jewish roots. So the British newspaper has concluded from a photograph taken last year of Ahmadinejad holding up an identity document that shows that his surname was once Sabourjian, identified as a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver:

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Ahmadinejad has denied the Holocaust and threatened Israel. On his alleged Jewish heritage, the Telegraph quotes Ali Nourizadeh of the Centre for Arab and Iranian Studies as saying "This aspect of Mr Ahmadinejad's background explains a lot about him.

"Every family that converts into a different religion takes a new identity by condemning their old faith," Nourizadeh said.

"By making anti-Israeli statements he is trying to shed any suspicions about his Jewish connections. He feels vulnerable in a radical Shia society."

Nonsense, Meir Javedanfar writes in The Guardian. He quotes two sources as saying that Ahmadinejad's father was in fact a religious Shia who taught the Quran before and after the future president's birth and their move to Tehran, and that Ahmadinejad's mother is a Seyyede, a title given to women who are believed to be direct bloodline descendants of Muhammad.Javedanfar disputes the Telegraph etymology of Sabourjian, saying that it actually derives from the Farsi for thread painter, a formerly common occupation in Ahmadinihad's native province.

According to the Telegraph, Ahmadinejad has not denied that his family changed their name when they moved to Tehran in the 1950s, but he has never revealed what it was change from or directly addressed the reason for the switch.

Relatives have said a mixture of religious reasons and economic pressures forced his blacksmith father Ahmad to change when Mr Ahmadinejad was aged four, the Telegraph reports.

During a televised presidential debate this year he was goaded to admit that his name had changed but he ignored the jibe, the Telegraph reports. An Iranian blogger who called for an investigation of Mr Ahmadinejad's roots was arrested this summer.

The Telegraph does not appear to have sought comment from the Iranian government. But The Teheran Times has a story Wednesday saying that the Telegraph and other British newspapers "are taking their cue from Israeli leaders."

"These reports are undoubtedly published in line with Israeli interests," an unnamed media analyst tells the Iranian newspaper, and adds that the report was "obviously designed to divert world attention from Israeli crimes against Palestinians and the use of weapons of mass destruction in the three-week attack on the Gaza Strip."

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