Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My father, Osama bin Laden

Get your hankies ready. Osama bin Laden's son Omar - the one who married a publicity-hungry British grandmother 24 years his senior in 2007 - is busy hawking his autobiography.

In an excerpt run by Vanity Fair, we learn that poor Osama had an unhappy childhood!

Despite the fact that his stepfather was one of the finest men in Saudi Arabia, my father’s life did not evolve as he wished. Like most children of divorced parents, he felt a loss, for he was no longer as intimately involved with his father’s family. Although my father was never one to complain, it is believed that he keenly felt his lack of status, genuinely suffering from his father’s lack of personal love and

That's 9/11 explained then.

We are also treated to the details of Osama's "musklike scent", mathematical genius, love of football, and worst of all, the fact that

when I was very small, there were times that he and my mother secluded themselves in their bedroom, not to be seen by the family for several days, so I know that my father enjoyed my mother’s company.


But then there's this:

You might have guessed by now that my father was not an affectionate man. He never cuddled with me or my brothers. I tried to force him to show affection, and was told that I made a pest of myself. When he was home, I remained near, pulling attention-gaining pranks as frequently as I dared. Nothing sparked his fatherly warmth. In fact, my annoying behavior encouraged him to start carrying his signature cane. As time passed, he began caning me and my brothers for the slightest infraction.

Oh dear. Just when I was beginning to warm to him....

Israel: a surprisingly happy face

Some interesting results in the 2009 Legatum Prosperity Index - "the world’s only global assessment of wealth and wellbeing".

Israel came 27th/104 - well below almost every Western European country, the US and Canada (Britain came 12th), but really quite good considering it was ranked 140th on the "Vision of humanity global peace index".

For a permanently stressed country, it scored an impressive 12th/104 in the "average life satisfaction" category. That's pretty happy, all things considered. The UK, incidentally, ranked 17.

For those who complain that Israel is somehow 'undemocratic', please note that it was ranked 17th. "Israelis have unrestricted political rights, and very high levels of civil liberties. Israel has a large number of democratic institutions and organisations, and there are many constraints on the power of the executive, ranking the country in the top 10 worldwide on this variable."

It has a strong economy (22nd overall): "inflation rates at, just over 0.5% per year, are the second lowest worldwide."

On the sad side, tolerance of ethnic minorities, and levels of trust between citizens are low; in addition, the report notes, "Israel is not very religious, with less than half of its citizens considering religion to be an important part of their daily lives, ranking the country 71st, internationally, and suggesting limited access to religious support networks." An interesting finding considering the large number of Orthodox Jewish citizens, as well as religious Muslims, in the country, indicating just how sharp the divide is between religious and secular.

But my favourite entry concerns the country's health. Israel evidently has an excellent health system:

Israel has the sixth highest proportion of doctors and nurses worldwide, and ranks in the top 20 with respect to the number of hospital beds per person. Health-adjusted life expectancy, at 71, is very high, and both the proportion of undernourished citizens and the infant mortality rate are low, at roughly 4% and four per 1,000 live births, respectively.... but just four-fifths are happy with their general level of health, ranking the country below the global average.

In other words, were the Jewish state not full of hypochondriacs who take particular delight in moaning about their health, it could have been ranked even higher....

Friday, October 23, 2009

BNP leader Nick Griffin, friend of Israel?

For supporters of Israel, it was the shot heard around the UK.

Last night, BNP leader Nick Griffin told the entire country on Question Time that the BNP was the only party to support Israel in its war "against the terrorists" during Operation Cast Lead.

This was possibly the worst public relations blow to Israel in this country since Operation Cast Lead itself - or possibly longer. Mr Griffin has just ensured that anyone who supports Israel, or its right to defend itself, will be immediately associated with the BNP. It will take 10 years to shake off.

Clearly, a man who at one point was a Holocaust denier (and has now - he claims - changed his mind, although he refused to explain why because he said he would be prosecuted in France), cannot also be a true friend of Israel.

So why did he do it? Asserting that he is a friend to Israel has two immediate benefits. First, it allows him to argue that he is not antisemitic or racist (the context in which he brought it up last night) - ie it provides him with a convenient cover for other vile views. Second, it makes him appear, to his supporters, anti-Muslim (which in today's UK political climate carried far more benefit than being antisemitic).

For those who have been following the story of Polish MEP Michal Kaminski, the Tory European ally who is accused of holding antisemitic views, Griffin's position last night had particular resonance. Kaminski, after all, is also a staunch public supporter of Israel and its right to defend itself. Last month, he even visited the Jewish state, and paid a visit to the Kotel.

Now, Israel itself has had nothing to do with Griffin (as far as I know), but it has embraced Kaminski. During his visit, he was welcomed by deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon. He was also guest of honour at the Conservative Friends of Israel lunch at the Tory party conference earlier this month.

How genuine are his views on Israel? Do they come from similar places to Griffin's? And does it really matter?

At the end of the day, the fact remains that this ally of Israel is seen as borderline antisemitic, if not more than that, by many Jews - and by many non-Jews as well, who find the Conservative alliance with him deeply troubling.

Israel's alliance with him is a deep problem for local Jews and indeed anyone fighting racism, because it provides him with just the cover he needs to claim that he cannot possibly be a racist.

Israel might argue that it needs to take its friends where it can find them - and over the years, out of a position of isolation, it has cooperated with and even endorsed many dubious, objectionable and even racist individuals and regimes, such as apartheid South Africa. But this is an extremely short-sighted view. As Griffin's poison embrace last night showed only too clearly, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

'How I escaped from the Taliban'

David Rohde, the NYT reporter who spent seven months in Taliban captivity, tells the story of his remarkable escape, with his translator:

Tahir and I had decided that I would get up first that night and go to the bathroom without asking the guards for permission. If the guards remained asleep, Tahir would follow. Twenty feet away, on a shelf outside the kitchen, was a car towrope we planned to use to lower ourselves down a 15-foot wall ringing the compound. I had found it two weeks earlier and hidden it beneath a pile of old clothes.

Several minutes went by, but Tahir did not come out of the room. I stared intently at the entrance to the living room where we slept side by side with the guards — roughly 15 feet away and directly across the courtyard from the bathroom — and waited for Tahir to emerge. I had pulled his foot to rouse him before I crept out of the room. He had groaned and, I assumed, awakened.

As the minutes passed, I wasn’t sure what to do. I stood in the darkened bathroom and wondered if Tahir had changed his mind. If the guards caught us, they might kill me, but they would definitely kill Tahir. Part of me thought it was wrong even to have agreed to do this. After seven months in captivity, I wondered if we were capable of making rational decisions.

Read the whole thing here. The other four parts of his story are here, and are mesmerising from start to finish.

Ariel Sharon: the update

Almost four years after his stroke, Lynn Sherr visits Ariel Sharon, former prime minister of Israel, in hospital:

The old soldier’s eyes are open. Sometimes he’s propped up in front of a TV, where images of nature and animals, especially cows, flicker across the screen. His family tells him the day’s news, the goings on at his beloved farm. They read to him, alternating between two books at a time, just as he used to do for himself. They play classical music. When his white hair grows long, they trim it. And once in a while, when someone tells him to move a toe, he does.

It is a desperately sad image, and a bit petrifying, as well - because no one knows just how aware he is:

“There is a feeling of communication, of realization—I mean, the eyes are open and there is kind of, like, you feel that he feels your presence,” says Dr. Shlomo Segev, Sharon’s longtime personal physician and the head of the Institute of Medical Screening at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, just outside Tel Aviv, where Sharon has been hospitalized since May 2006. “So it’s not completely what we call a coma. Not a deep coma, for sure. But if you asked me to quantify that, I cannot.”

Although this does sound like wishful thinking. Especially when you read what else Dr Segev has to say about Mr Sharon:

“He looks about the same. You would recognize him... He is a very, very healthy fat man.”

If Ariel Sharon, who has had two strokes and is in a long-term coma (deep or otherwise), is his idea of of a "very, very healthy" man, I'd hate to hear his definition of a sick man.

Where's the love for Israel?

A few weeks ago, Forward columnist Jay Michaelson wrote a piece about how he was losing his love for Israel.

This week, four writers ponder the issues he raised - including me:

The end of the Diaspora’s love affair with Israel has been blamed on a variety of internal Jewish factors, including the increasing assimilation of Diaspora Jewry, its disillusionment with the reality of Israeli life, and a turning inward now that Israel is perceived to be strong and self-sufficient.
External factors, however, may be far more important.

In the past 20 years, the political climate in the West has changed radically, in ways that do not flatter Israel. Much of Europe is dominated by a post-colonial, almost pacifist, attitude, in which occupation, under any circumstances, is considered immoral, military action is almost always undesirable and the very idea of a modern nation-state is questioned. The range of “acceptable” political opinion in the United States is far broader, but these sorts of views are also gaining traction among many American liberals.

The reality is that throughout history, Diaspora Jews have, to some extent, always absorbed (and at times also led) the political reality in their countries. Zionism itself grew out of the nationalist movements in 19th-century Europe, combined with a Tolstoyan ennobling of land and physical labor.
 More than a century later, Jews still do not live in a vaccum.

Is it really realistic to expect that Diaspora Jewry remain completely detached from the political zeitgeist, seeing Israel solely through Jewish eyes? Can Jews who grew up in London or Washington really be expected to understand Israel the way it understands itself, when their basic political, cultural and even religious frames of reference differ so radically?

The drift between the two communities is to an extent inevitable, at least as long as current Western attitudes toward warfare prevail — or as long as Israel remains embroiled in conflict. 
So can a complete breakdown of the relationship be prevented? So far, Israel’s approach has been to try to better explain the realities it faces to the Diaspora, mainly by bringing young Diaspora Jews to spend time in the Jewish state. But perhaps Israelis need to take a step back, and first try to improve their own understanding of the realities that prevail in the Diaspora.

Read the rest of the debate here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Madoff's new friend

According to AP, one of Bernie Madoff's closest friends in prison is none other than Jonathan Pollard (the others are apparently "a reputed Colombo crime family boss"; and Madoff's cellmate, a convicted drug offender).

He presumably isn't on such intimate terms with Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric who masterminded the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and who is also in the same facility.

But here's an idea. Stick them all in a room together, and I guarantee it will be the most-watched edition, ever, of Celebrity Big Brother....

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A reporter's seven months in Taliban captivity

If you read one thing today, make it this account of a New York Times reporter's seven months being held captive by the Taliban. It comes in three parts; two more parts are to follow tomorrow and on Friday.

Over those months, I came to a simple realization. After seven years of reporting in the region, I did not fully understand how extreme many of the Taliban had become. Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of “Al Qaeda lite,” a religiously motivated movement primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan.

Living side by side with the Haqqanis’ followers, I learned that the goal of the hard-line Taliban was far more ambitious. Contact with foreign militants in the tribal areas appeared to have deeply affected many young Taliban fighters. They wanted to create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world.

I had written about the ties between Pakistan’s intelligence services and the Taliban while covering the region for The New York Times. I knew Pakistan turned a blind eye to many of their activities. But I was astonished by what I encountered firsthand: a Taliban mini-state that flourished openly and with impunity.

The Taliban government that had supposedly been eliminated by the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was alive and thriving.

All along the main roads in North and South Waziristan, Pakistani government outposts had been abandoned, replaced by Taliban checkpoints where young militants detained anyone lacking a Kalashnikov rifle and the right Taliban password. We heard explosions echo across North Waziristan as my guards and other Taliban fighters learned how to make roadside bombs that killed American and NATO troops.

And I found the tribal areas — widely perceived as impoverished and isolated — to have superior roads, electricity and infrastructure compared with what exists in much of Afghanistan.

Not only do the Taliban have international ambitions - it emerges from David Rohde's account - they also seemed surprisingly focused on Israel and the conflict with the Palestinians.

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Judge Goldstone's dangerous emphasis on international courts

Judge Richard Goldstone attempts to explain today, in The Jerusalem Post, why he agreed to head the UN investigation into Operation Cast Lead.

He says that he felt obligated to accept the mission "as a Jew", which comes across as more than a little arrogant - the (possibly unintended) implication is that he's the only good Jew out there, unlike the Israelis and their Jewish supporters across the world, who opposed his investigation from the start.

He says that "as a condition of my participation I insisted upon and received an evenhanded mandate to investigate all sides and that is what we sought to do." Israel, however, sabotaged his attempts to fulfil his mission because it refused to cooperate.

With hindsight, it is a good question whether Israel made a mistake here; it argued that the report was always going to be biased and unfair, but could it have softened the blow and improved its position in the aftermath? Still, this does not excuse Judge Goldstone for relying so heavily on Hamas testimony and apparantly accepting it at face value.

The most interesting part of his piece, however, are the following (initially stale-sounding) paragraphs:

Over the past 20 years, I have investigated serious violations of international law in my own country, South Africa, in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda and the alleged fraud and theft by governments and political leaders in a number of countries in connection with the United Nations Iraq Oil for Food program. In all of these, allegations reached the highest political echelons. In every instance, I spoke out strongly in favor of full investigations and, where appropriate, criminal prosecutions. I have spoken out over the years on behalf of the International Bar Association against human rights violations in many countries, including Sri Lanka, China, Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe and Pakistan...

Israel and its courts have always recognized that they are bound by norms of international law that it has formally ratified or that have become binding as customary international law upon all nations. The fact that the United Nations and too many members of the international community have unfairly singled out Israel for condemnation and failed to investigate horrible human rights violations in other countries cannot make Israel immune from the very standards it has accepted as binding upon it.

Israel, by the way, has argued that these laws, drawn up decades ago, are utterly out of date when it comes to modern warfare, which is often carried out in urban areas, and has asked to have them re-drafted (this is also relevant to other armies fighting at the moment, eg America and Britain in Afghanistan and Iraq).

In any case, Judge Goldstone's almost blind belief in the role of international courts backs up one of the most incisive commentaries I've read, by South African historian and journalist RW Johnson, in the Sunday Times this week:

Goldstone is keen to play a judicial or prosecutorial role on a world stage. Thus he has argued that the Darfur crisis should go before an international court, as should Robert Mugabe for crimes against humanity. He also argued that Saddam Hussein should have been handed to an international court since Iraqi courts weren’t good enough and even that the 9/11 masterminds should be sent before an international court because US courts would be perceived as biased. No doubt the lawyer who judges Osama Bin Laden will become a world celebrity.

Similarly, he has recommended any cases of Israeli crimes against humanity in Gaza go before an international court.

Throughout his career, Goldstone has been accused of cutting corners because of ambition, and critics say his Gaza commission has set a new low. That a Jewish judge, barred from entering Israel for accepting a commission biased against the state, should write a report based largely on interviews with Hamas which panders to anti-Zionist (even anti-Semitic) opinion seems unbeatable.

With this longstanding agenda of sending local matters to international courts, did Israel ever stand a chance?

How the Electric Company nearly ruined, then saved, an Israeli wedding

I recently came across a cute website, Only In Israel, about - naturally - things that could only happen in Israel.

It included this heart-warming story about a mother-of-a-bride who was told there would be an electricity black-out in her neighbourhood on the day of her wedding.

My husband David called me up a week before my daughter Ruchama's wedding to Moshe Stein and said : “We have a wrinkle…”

The electric company had posted a notice on our apartment building announcing that there was going to be a power outage in our neighborhood to allow for a major repair.

The problem was that it fell out exactly on the day of the wedding... I called the electric company to ask (read: beg) them to postpone the repair work, since we really, really needed the use of the apt. to prepare for the wedding (you know – makeup, hair, etc.).

I was immediately transferred to a manager named Zion. He understood the problem and explained that they absolutely couldn’t reschedule the power outage but he would see what he could do.

Two days later we spoke again and he said that he had sent some people out to look at the site and that they were having trouble isolating our building from the rest of the area. But – not to worry- if he couldn’t resolve the problem – we could have a room in the electric company's building to use as we wish! I was flabbergasted – I asked him if he’d ever see a bride leave from the Electric Company. He said: “actually, it’s happened before”.

The next day he called and in a happy voice conveyed his best wishes for the upcoming wedding. He asked me to tell the bride Mazel Tov [congratulations] and that she would have electricity because he personally went to look at the location and he found a solution.

So we get up bright and early on Sunday, and lo and behold, there is a generator parked right outside of our building. That’s right – our building was hooked up to electricity all day from our own private generator while the rest of the neighborhood had a blackout!

Unusually, the story included a name and photos, so it's not an urban myth.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is Khamenei really dead?

Iran analyst Meir Javedanfar seems sceptical about the news that Ayatollah Khamenei may be dead (or in a coma), which originated - he said - with Michael Ledeen:

Should Mr Ledeen's story turn out to be true, the CIA should seriously consider giving him a senior post. Anyone who has access to sources in Iran who know Khamenei's exact whereabouts and the timing of his movement is to be taken very seriously. They should also ask Mr Ledeen if his sources have any friends/relatives who work near or at a giant construction site in Qom, which glows at night. And while they are at it, if they manage to find Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's secret Bar Mitzvah pictures at The Western Wall, then they would make a lot of people at The Daily Telegraph very happy.

Meanwhile, Khamenei can join Kim Jong Il and Fidel Castro in the select club of world leaders whom no one is ever quite sure whether they are alive or dead.

Auschwitz joins facebook

I have just received a message from a PR asking whether we are planning to do "an article on Auschwitz's new facebook page".

I can already imagine the news feed:

Miriam Shaviv is friends with Auschwitz

Miriam Shaviv is a fan of Auschwitz

Miriam Shaviv has poked Auschwitz

Auschwitz has poked Miriam Shaviv

Really, I could do without it.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Obama, turn the peace prize down

The Telegraph has it right:

What this does is accelerate the elevation of President Obama to a comedy confection, which he does not deserve, and gives his critics yet another bat to whack him with. Shame on the Norwegians. He should turn it down, even if he does look great in white tie and tails.

Seriously, if he had an iota of humility (which I'm not sure he does), he would turn it down. It would be the first really brave thing he's done (as opposed to said) in quite a while. And frankly, the credit he would earn from turning it down would be far, far greater than from accepting it.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Will the UN teach the Holocaust to Gaza's children?

An interesting conflict is shaping up in Gaza between Hamas and the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

A few months after originally floating the idea - and having his own staff shoot it down - John Ging, UNRWA director of operations, told The Independent that he was "confident and determined" that the Holocaust would be featured in a new curriculum being drafter for the UNWRA schools. The Agency runs about 200 of the 600 local schools.

What exactly does "Holocaust education" mean in this context? Certainly nothing resembling what we are familiar with from Jewish, Israeli or Western schools; I daresay there will be no trips to Auschwitz. In a population which has been systematically educated to deny the Holocaust, it will be taught carefully (and, I am guessing, in no more than a lesson or two), as part of a string of other massacres and inustices such as (the distinctly different issue of) apartheid:

Mr Ging said the new curriculum would also include "tangible examples"
of other "blights and stains in human history". He added: "We want to
succeed with the active support of the civilian population who want
their children to be part of the civilised world and who have no
interest in challenging globally accepted facts; no more than ... they
start challenging whether the earth goes round the sun, or Hiroshima or
Nagasaki, or the killing fields of Cambodia, or the ethnic cleansing of
the Balkans, or the genocide in Rwanda, or apartheid in South Africa;
or, for that matter, the Nakba."

As one commentator to the Jerusalem Post story on the interview says, when it gets to the section on the Holocaust, it might be hard to stop the students applauding.

But Mr Ging cannot be criticised for not going far enough; this is a small step for UNRWA, a giant leap for the population of Gaza, and he has to operate realistically. I give him full credit for trying to broaden the Gazan horizons, although - let's be clear - he is no friend of Israel, wholly accepting the Nakba narrative and advancing Palestinian claims against Israel on the world stage.

The problem is, it is still unlikely that even this modest proposal will ever come to fruition in Gaza.

UNRWA is widely perceived as a Palestinian/Hamas tool - more than 95 per cent of its staff are Palestinians and in elections earlier this year to the UNRWA trade union in Gaza, Hamas swept the board.

In reality, there have been increasing clashes between UNRWA, under Ging's leadership, and Hamas, which has noticed the UNRWA does not always toe the party line - and sees it as a rival to its own power base.

There were particular objections over the past year to Mr Ging's attempts to promote mixed-gender education, particularly in summer camps, and rows over the distribution of aid during and after Operation Cast Lead; he has also threatened to fire employees with open affiliation to Fatah or Hamas. In an editorial in April in Gazan paper Filastin called him an American and Israeli puppet with an agenda "opposed to that of the resistance".

Mr Ging seemed to have survived all that. But it seems extraordinary that he will stake so much of his reputation on teaching of the Holocaust, an issue which to Hamas is a real red line. I am willing to bet that either Holocaust education will go, or he will. Either way, don't expect to see Anne Frank's diary on the literature curriculum in Gaza any time soon.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Iranian threat, in pictures

An Iranian news agency claims to have photos of various Iranian nuclear facilities. Iit is unclear from the photos (without a translation, anyway) how many and which we're talking about.


The pre-date date

Material Maidel reports on a new trend in the New York Charedi world: the pre-date date.

A good (male) friend of hers

was telling me about some girl who was recently redd [suggested] to him who asked that they meet for a casual thirty-minute session before they set up their date. He thought this was crazy - doesn't the pre-date qualify as a date?...

Convo #2 was at the same event, albeit with a Boro Park Mamma (when she heard I was single she stuck to me like glue) who told me how she tells all her kids to meet before they date... Her take on this was that spending the mandatory 4 hours on a date (i never knew frum dates had specific schedules, but i should thank her for clearing it up for me) is a waste of time when often the couple knows within 20 minutes whether or not they are compatible (sometimes it feels like all I need is 10). So in a way, the pre-date date is a time-saver. It's also a money-saver considering how much some boys dish out on dates.

Of course the guy friend is right - a date is a date is a date (even when it's a "pre-date date"). But for those who do not buy into this semantically convoluted craziness, but would like to continue shidduch-dating, I have a solution.

On an early episode of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother (broadcast in the UK on E4), Barney suggests a dating 'Lemon law': If, within the first five minutes, you decide your blind date is a lemon, you can just get up and leave, citing the 'Lemon law', no hard feelings.

Or maybe - what this trend really seems to be suggesting - it would be better to allow young men and women to meet under more relaxed and natural circumstances (say, at a wedding or outside a shul?) and then let things evolve naturally, rather than keeping them rigidly seperate and then only allowing them to meet in the most artificial, and pressurised, conditions?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Relax: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not a Jew

Well, thank G-d for that. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not a Jew.

You would think that was pretty obvious, but the Daily Telegraph recently re-ignited the old rumour that he was born Jewish, that his parents converted to Islam and changed their name, and that his chronic hatred of the Jewish state is a way of over-compensating for the disadvantage of his roots (some overcompensation - calling for genocide!).

The JC has addressed this rumour in the past. But now comes Meir Javedanfar in the Guardian, who puts the various suspicions to rest - let's hope, for once and for all. (I think the psychological implications of Ahmadinejad really being Jewish would make my head explode.)

The [Telegraph] claim is based on a number of arguments, a key one being that his previous surname was Sabourjian which "derives from weaver of the sabour, the name for the Jewish tallit shawl in Persia".

Professor David Yeroshalmi, author of The Jews of Iran in the 19th century and an expert on Iranian Jewish communities, disputes the validity of this argument. "There is no such meaning for the word 'sabour' in any of the Persian Jewish dialects, nor does it mean Jewish prayer shawl in Persian. Also, the name Sabourjian is not a well-known Jewish name," he stated in a recent interview. In fact, Iranian Jews use the Hebrew word "tzitzit" to describe the Jewish prayer shawl. Yeroshalmi, a scholar at Tel Aviv University's Center for Iranian Studies, also went on to dispute the article's findings that the "-jian" ending to the name specifically showed the family had been practising Jews. "This ending is in no way sufficient to judge whether someone has a Jewish background. Many Muslim surnames have the same ending," he stated.

Upon closer inspection, a completely different interpretation of "Sabourjian" emerges. According to Robert Tait, a Guardian correspondent who travelled to Ahmadinejad's native village in 2005, the name "derives from thread painter – sabor in Farsi – a once common and humble occupation in the carpet industry in Semnan province, where Aradan is situated". This is confirmed by Kasra Naji, who also wrote a biography of Ahmadinejad and met his family in his native village. Carpet weaving or colouring carpet threads are not professions associated with Jews in Iran.

According to both Naji and Tait, Ahmadinejad's father Ahmad was in fact a religious Shia, who taught the Quran before and after Ahmadinejad's birth and their move to Tehran. So religious was Ahmad Sabourjian that he bought a house near a Hosseinieh, a religious club that he frequented during the holy month of Moharram to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hossein.

Moreover, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's mother is a Seyyede. This is a title given to women whose family are believed to be direct bloodline descendants of Prophet Muhammad. Male members are given the title of Seyyed, and include prominent figures such as Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei. In Judaism, this is equivalent to the Cohens, who are direct descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. One has to be born into a Seyyed family: the title is never given to Muslims by birth, let alone converts. This makes it impossible for Ahmadinejad's mother to have been a Jew. In fact, she was so proud of her lineage that everyone in her native village of Aradan referred to her by her Islamic title, Seyyede.

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.

The Sabourjians were one of many such families. Their surname was related to carpet-making, an industry that conjures up images of sweatshops. They changed it to Ahmadinejad in order to help them fit in. The new name was also chosen because it means from the race of Ahmad, one of the names given to Muhammad.

According to Ahmadinejad's relatives the new name emphasised the family's piety and their dedication to their religion and its founder. This is something that the president and his relatives in Tehran and Aradan have maintained to the present day. Not because they are trying to deny their past, but because they are proud of it.

On the other hand, Mahmoud Tallit-Weaver does have a nice ring to it...