Sunday, October 25, 2009

Our extremists on the Temple Mount

From Ynet:
In a move that may heighten tensions in the capital, the Organization for Human Rights on the Temple Mount (OHRTM) called for Jews to visit the east Jerusalem compound, which houses the al-Aqsa Mosque.

During a rightist event held in Jerusalem Sunday evening, just hours after Muslims rioted in and around the Temple Mount amid reports that Jewish extremists were planning to visit the site, Professor Hillel Weiss said, "The (third) temple must be built now. The mosques do not have to be destroyed in order for us to do this."

The conference, which was attended by a number of Knesset members and leading rabbis, was held in protest of the decision to seal off the compound due to the recent violence.

"It's time that we stop surrendering to violence," Temple Institute Director Rabbi Yehuda Glick said, adding that "before his assassination, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin said the greatest threat to Israeli democracy is bowing down to violence. "Unfortunately, lately police are surrendering and withdrawing in the face of the Palestinians' violence," said the rabbi.

Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi Dov Lior said, "It is vital that the Israeli people visit the (Temple Mount). We are suffering because a large segment of the populations is indifferent towards this issue. "Reclaiming our sovereignty over (the Temple Mount) will bring redemption closer," said the rabbi.

Far-right activist Moshe Feiglin told the conference that the Temple Mount riots and the Goldstone Report, which accuses the IDF of committing war crimes during its December-January conflict with Hamas in Gaza, both constitute attempts to "undermine our legitimacy in this land."
Don't these people realize they are playing with fire? It seems like the Islamic movement in Israel, Hamas, the PA, and this right-wing Jewish group are working together to start the third intifada. (Although I doubt that the OHRTM intends to start the third intifada, unlike Hamas).

(For a contrary view, read Yisrael Medad at My Right Word. He attended the conference, and I hope will write more about it on his blog).

Hamas on Jerusalem: Fate of the city to be decided by war

Rioting in Jerusalem has resumed today, and Hamas leader Khaled Mashall says the fate of the city will not be decided upon by negotiations, but by war. He claims that the Israelis want to demolish the Al Aqsa mosque and replace it with the Temple.
Following a day of clashes between security forces and Arab rioters in Jerusalem, Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal on Sunday evening stated that the fate of the capital would be determined by force, not negotiations.
Arab youths hurl stones...
"The fate of Jerusalem will be determined only by confrontation and not by the negotiating tables," Mashaal said in a speech, according to Channel 10. "The Israelis want to divide al-Aqsa Mosque, and this is not all. They want to hold their religious ceremonies in the mosque … in preparation for demolishing it and building their temple there," he reportedly said. Israel is interested in handling the Jerusalem issue unilaterally so that it is not included in negotiations with the Palestinians, Masha'al claimed.
"Jerusalem is all of Jerusalem, not only [the east Jerusalem neighborhood of] Abu-Dis. The Arabs and Muslims are [the city's] residents, and the Zionists have no claim over it," he said.
"I call for angry protests in Palestine and in the Arab world. Today, protests began in [the] Gaza [Strip], and we hope they will spread to the West Bank. It is important for there to be a united Palestinian position. We must send a message to the world: In light of the settlements and actions in Jerusalem, there are no negotiations and we must rethink our steps," the Hamas leader concluded.
It's clear, of course, from this story, that Masha'al does not think Jews have any claim to Jerusalem, even the right to live in it. (We should not be fooled by his use of the word "Zionists" - he means Jews).

The Ma'an News Agency (Palestinian) offers a different translation of Masha'al's words:

Bethlehem – Ma'an – Hamas’ top political official, Khalid Mash'al, warned that Israel could attempt to divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem in a televised news conference from Damascus on Sunday evening.

"It was the first time Israeli army locked the gates of the mosque with chains, barring the call to prayer, breaking into its yards for long periods of time," Mash’al said in remarks denouncing an Israeli police raid early on Sunday that sparked a day of demonstrations." These acts are intended to divide Al-Aqsa and force their [Jews’] religious rituals on it," he added.

Mash’al may have been alluding to the division of the Ibrahimi Mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron, half of which is controlled by Israeli settlers.

Mash’al also struck a chord of Muslim-Christian solidarity in his address. He said that among those who holed themselves up inside the Mosque on Sunday in response to the Israeli intrusion were Palestinians from inside Israel and Christians. "Jerusalem for us, as Palestinians, is all of Jerusalem with all of its land, residents and its Islamic symbols … the Jews have no right to it," he also said.

"Jerusalem’s fate will not be decided in negotiations but in the balance of confrontation and resistance," he added.

For an archive of stories about the rioting in Jerusalem this fall, see my wiki on Jerusalem: Clashes on Temple Mount.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Jerusalem encounter

David of Israelity reports on A Jerusalem encounter.
Jerusalem has always been a volatile place, but the last week of protests and rioting by local Palestinians in the Old City and east Jerusalem over what they claim to be Israeli efforts to move in on the Temple Mount really show what a tinderbox it is.

But sometimes, trying to hone in on a human aspect instead of looking at the dismal macro situation can provide a different view of the situation that Jews and Arabs find themselves thrown in together in the place both sides call their home.

I was waiting for a bus yesterday across from the Regency Hotel near Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus to take me through the tunnel and to Ma’aleh Adumim. A short distance away, at the intersection that leads to Wadi Joz, the police had blocked off the road and were redirecting traffic – evidently a common procedure during the busy days of Hol Hamoed Succot when so many extra visitors come to Jerusalem, but undoubtedly mighty annoying for residents of the area.
There was one other person at the bus stop, a young man in his 20s, wearing trendy sunglasses and holding a small overnight bag.

“Are you going to Beit She’an too? he asked me in Hebrew, revealing with his accent that he was Arab. I told him no, and we started talking about his journey.
“I’m going to Jordan to visit my sister. She’s lived there for years,” he said. “It’s easier for me to cross over the border at Beit She’an.”

Turns out his name was Khaled and he lives in Shuafat, the Arab neighborhood that borders the Jewish neighborhood of French Hill, next to Hebrew University.
We started talking about Jordan, and he offered some tips about visiting our eastern neighbor. “There’s not much to see in Amman, it’s best to just go to Petra. But don’t go to Akaba, they don’t like Jews there.”

“Are things quiet in Shuafat now”? I asked, referring to rock throwing and tire burning that had taken place there in recent days.

“Yes, but you never know when it will start again. There’s a few instigators who start doing those things,” said Khaled, who said that he was entering his last years of a Master’s degree in business administration at the university. “I don’t like living here,” he added, pointing to the roadblock a few feet away. “You can’t go where you want. When I finish my Masters, my girlfriend and I are leaving – to America, or maybe Europe.”

We tossed things around for a few more minutes until my bus arrived. Khaled and I shook hands, wished each other well, and I got on the bus leaving him waiting for his.

On the way back home, I reflected on the encounter and felt a certain sadness – if decent people like Khaled are throwing up their hands in despair and leaving the fate of Jerusalem to the rock throwers and tire burners, then our future looks bleak. I wanted to get off the bus and go back and tell him, ’stay here, help us build a society that we can all live in together.’

But my bus was already entering Ma’aleh Adumim.
A nice sentiment on David's part, but it would be nice if he had referred to all the things that Israel does to make the lives of people like Khaled miserable. It's not just the stone-throwers of Shuafat, it's the separation wall and the checkpoints. Yes, I know all the arguments in favor of the barrier - it keeps suicide bombers out of Israel. If, however, that were the only goal, it would be built along the Green Line and settlements in the West Bank would not be on the Israeli side of the barrier. And in places like Jerusalem, the barrier would not be built right in the middle of Arab neighborhoods, as it is. See this 2007 article on the Brit Tzedek web site for a discussion of how difficult the separation barrier makes the lives of ordinary, non-terrorist Palestinians. And a blog posting by Dennis Fox on his walk from Ramallah to Jerusalem, passing by Shuafat, which is behind the separation wall and has only two entrances to it.

Below is a photo of the separation barrier in Jerusalem. See how it divides most of the buildings of one Arab neighborhood from a couple of houses further down the hill.







Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Merits of Jerusalem

One of the things that I find quite astonishing about the current denial by some Muslims that the first and second Temples stood on the Temple Mount is that Muslim sources from the early centuries of Islam clearly recognize that a Jewish Temple used to be there. There is a genre of Muslim religious writing on the merits of cities, including the merits of Jerusalem. The earliest example is Fada'il Bayt al-Maqdis by al-Walid b. Hammad al-Ramli (died 912 CE). (I have learned about this genre of Muslim literature from Suleiman Mourad, who wrote an article on it for Jerusalem: Idea and Reality). This genre contains traditions that clearly go back to earlier Jewish and Christian traditions about Jerusalem, including evidence that Solomon's Temple stood on the Temple Mount. Why do contemporary Muslim religious leaders in Palestine deny the evidence of their own tradition? (Or do they just not know about these texts?)

Monday, October 05, 2009

You just can't make these things up - the Conservative Bible Project

Wow, this reads like a parody of itself. Do these people know how ignorant they sound? The Conservative Bible Project proposes ten principles to follow in order to make a new conservative Bible translation.
1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias. Why would a "thought-for-thought" translation lead to a conservative translation? I would think that a "word for word" approach would be more conservative (and not incidentally, much harder to read!)

2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity. I myself do favor a more literal translation that doesn't elide originally sexist language in the Bible, but sometimes a gender inclusive translation is justifiable.

3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level. I agree with this - but why is this a conservative principle?

4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop; defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle". One of the examples they give below is translating "word" (as in the Prologue to John) as "truth" instead. How about taking a look at the Greek and its semantic range before imposing your own translation? Ever heard of eisegesis? And "peace"? What, replace it with "war"?

5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots"; using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census. So Jonah and the sailors "gambled" to figure out who was responsible for the storm that threatened to overwhelm the ship? This is ridiculous.

6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil. So how would this translation understand "the Satan" in Job?

7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning. Free-market parables?? Nothing like imposing a modern economic system upon a text from first century Palestine.

8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story. And why is this a "liberal passage"? Because it indicates that Jesus was merciful? (Their most egregious example in the article is the last words of Jesus in Matthew - "Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'" Apparently this is a "liberal addition" - the idea that God is merciful and forgives sinners!

9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels. I have no idea what this means.

10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God." Again, why is conciseness a conservative style and wordiness a liberal one?
Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do!

Ah, so much for a good rumor - Ahmedinejad NOT Jewish after all

Meir Javedanfar, on the Guardian site Comment is Free, has scotched the idea that Ahmedinejad is Jewish: Ahmadinejad has no Jewish roots.

And it seems likely to me that he knows what he's talking about: according to the Guardian website, "Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst and co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran."

Sunday, October 04, 2009

More trouble on the Temple Mount

Nadav Shragai's opinion piece in the March 12, 2009 issue of Haaretz reveals some information that I did not know, and it provides a key to why there was violence on the Temple Mount the morning before Yom Kippur a week ago. He wrote in March:
For years, the Jerusalem District Police "benefited" from the fact that few Jews visited the Temple Mount, sparing the police this "headache." But now the situation is changing. The halakhic consensus that Jews are forbidden to ascend the mount has been broken. More and more rabbis are permitting Jews to visit, and more and more Jews are seeking to do so.

The police have not come to terms with this new situation. They are confused and are confusing others, and have inverted the natural order of things on the mount, which is both the world's most sensitive site and the Jewish people's holiest site. Not much remains for Jews on the Temple Mount. The Temple is gone. Prayer is forbidden there. The mount's antiquities have been destroyed, and its mosques have become founts of religious and nationalist incitement against the State of Israel.
It is certainly true that more religious Jews have started to go to the Temple Mount, despite the halakhic prohibition of the Chief Rabbinate which has existed since 1967. The question is whether this should be regarded as a "provocation," as the leaders of the Islamic Movement in Israel and the Palestinian Authority seem to.

On April 16, 2009, Haaretz reported that "Hundreds of Muslim protesters block Jewish entry to the Temple Mount." Apparently a Jewish group was given permission to ascend the Mount and pray there, something which I thought was not allowed at all.
Hundreds of Muslims gathered Thursday at the foot of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem, to prevent Jewish worshippers from entering the Temple Mount for a planned prayer service. The Muslim protesters began arriving Wednesday evening, gathering on the slope leading to the Temple Mount area. The rise, which overlooks the Western Wall, is considered holy to both Jews and Muslims, and houses a sacred site for both religions.

The Islamic Movement had opposed the prayer session, and police said they would allow the Jews to pray on the Mount, but not to engage in any other activities in the area.

Army Radio on Wednesday quoted Jerusalem Police as saying that they would limit the number of Muslim worshippers entering the Temple Mount for prayers on Thursday due to fears of disturbances. Hundreds of police and Border Police officers were to be deployed to East Jerusalem to prevent violence, and entry to the Temple Mount was to be restricted to women, and men over age 50 holding Israeli ID cards. Police said they received intelligence warnings about thousands of Palestinians being called to protest at the site. The Islamic Movement's northern branch arranged dozens of buses to take Muslim protesters to the area.
See also Shragai's September 28, 2009 Haaretz article, "Digs, Lies, and Mugrabi bridge," on growing Muslim denial that Jews ever had anything to do with the Temple Mount, including denying that Solomon's Temple once stood there.

The problems on the Temple Mount were renewed today: Israel keeps Temple Mount closed in wake of clashes
After a day of clashes near the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli security forces have decided to limit access to the compound for another day. The compound will be open only to men over the age of 50 with a valid Israeli identification card and to women of all ages.

Tensions in the Old City seemed to have calmed by late Sunday afternoon, following hours of clashes between Arab youth and security forces. Israeli security forces released from custody Jerusalem's senior Fatah official, Khatem Abed Al-Kadr, who was arrested earlier in the day on suspicion of inciting riots. Al-Kadr was released on condition that he not enter the Old City of Jerusalem and that he remain at least 250 meters from the area gates for 15 days. He was released on NIS 10,000 bail. Deputy leader of Israel's northern Islamic Movement, Sheikh Kemal Khativ, was also released on similar conditions.

Some 150 Palestinian protesters hurled rocks and bottles at Israeli police on Sunday after being barred from one of the holiest shrines in Jerusalem, on Temple Mount.

Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said police have dispersed the demonstrators who had gathered near the disputed hilltop compound. One police officer was lightly hurt in the clash. Ben-Ruby said that the unrest continued at a nearby East Jerusalem neighborhood and that three men have been detained.

Earlier Sunday, police closed the Temple Mount complex to visitors. The complex is sacred to Jews as the site of the two biblical Jewish temples and to Muslims as home of the al-Aqsa mosque. The closure was imposed after Palestinians rioted at the site last week on Yom Kippur. The northern chapter of the Islamic Movement reported Sunday morning that buses en route to the Al-Aqsa mosque had been detained on route 6.

It was further reported that tensions were high in the area following recent calls on Muslim residents of East Jerusalem to show a presence at the mosque.

On Friday, the Islamic Movement held a rally in the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, under the heading "Al-Aqsa is in danger." The rally is a 14-year old annual tradition. The head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, Ra'ad Salah, warned Friday against Israel's alleged plan to take over the mosque. "[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will set the Middle East on fire," Salah told his supporters at the rally.
I would say that the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel is also trying to set the Middle East on fire, as the words of Ra'ad Salah below demonstrate:
An Islamic Movement leader on Sunday urged Muslims across Israel to gather at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem to prevent extreme right-wing Jews from entering the compound to pray. "I call on everyone in Jerusalem and within the Green Line to come to the [Al-Qasa] mosque and show your presence," said Sheik Ra'ad Salah, who heads the northern branch of the Islamic Movement.
A reporter for a website affiliated with the northern branch of the Islamic Movement was beaten by police during the riots today:
A reporter for the Arab-Israeli news website PLS48.net was injured during the riots that broke out Sunday morning at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City. He claims a police officer struck him with a baton and disappeared. Police reject the claims.

Reporter Abdallah Zidan arrived at the Temple Mount at dawn to cover the prayers for his website, which is sponsored by the Islamic Movement's northern branch.

Many heeded Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Raad Salah's call to arrive at the Al-Aqsa Mosque after word got out that extreme-right wing Jews would be making their way to the site as well.

Zidan, a resident of the Manda village in the Galilee was among the visitors, and along with a group of fellow worshipers arrived at the entrance gate at around 5 am. A tumult suddenly erupted near Sheikh Kamal Khatib, Salah's deputy, who was standing in Zidan's vicinity. Khatib, who was later arrested on suspicion of incitement, was surrounded by people who prevented officers from reaching him. Zidan claims that during the fracas a police officer struck him with a baton in a forceful manner. "I started bleeding from my eye, the people around me tried to help but the police officer disappeared," Zidan recalled.

Zidan was evacuated to an east Jerusalem hospital and transferred by ambulance to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. "I was lucky the actual eye wasn't hurt, it was very close," said Zidan, who required stitches.

"Police officers were behaving very brutally, like animals. They came and hit me for no reason. Media personnel who come for news coverage cannot be hurt in such a way," he said.

The reporter added that he intends on filing a complaint against the officer with the Justice Ministry.

Jerusalem Police rejected the claims and stated that "Border Guard forces together with minority section officers requested Kamal Khatib to come with them, which he did. Nothing unusual occurred at any stage of his arrest. It went by very smoothly."
While I deeply suspect the motives of the Islamic Movement, I don't necessarily believe all of the police accounts either. Police certainly present themselves in the best possible light and deny any wrongdoing when they clearly did the wrong thing in a given situation - like beating a reporter.

Khaled Abu Toameh of the Jerusalem Post also reports on today's events:
At least 100 Palestinian men, who had refused to leave the Temple Mount despite an Israeli decision made on Sunday morning to shut down the site due to security concerns, left the area in the early evening. The Palestinian Authority and the Waqf had instructed the men to arrive at the site on Saturday night and stay put, fearing what they termed a "Jewish takeover."

On Sunday morning, approximately 150 Arabs hurled rocks and bottles at security forces in the Old City shortly after the decision to shut down the compound was announced.

In the evening, Jerusalem Magistrate's Court issued restraining orders against senior Fatah official Hatem Abdel Kader and Islamic Movement official Kamal Khatib, banishing both men from the Old City area for a period of 15 days. Khatib was arrested in the afternoon on suspicion of fanning the riots. Kader was detained overnight Saturday on suspicion of inciting Muslims to cause disturbances in the Old City by issuing the call. Kader previously served as the Palestinian Authority's minister for Jerusalem affairs after acting as PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad's adviser on Jerusalem affairs.

In Gaza, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh commented on the riots, saying that "The Israeli attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque is continuing, they have surrounded the mosque and broken into it." Speaking at a function in honor of the release of the 20th female Palestinian prisoner, Haniyeh claimed that gun-toting Israeli security forces had forced devout worshipers to leave the compound.

Earlier in the day, Border Police closed off roads around the Old City and dispersed the rioters into the neighborhood of Wadi Joz, where residents briefly joined in the disturbances. Three rioters were arrested and one border policeman was lightly wounded in the clashes.

Many of the Arab rioters were believed to have traveled to the capital from the North. Palestinians had claimed that police planned to order groups of Jewish settlers to pray within close proximity of mosques.

The clashes come two days after the US State Department called on its citizens to avoid the area over Succot.

According to police, access to the area was barred following a call made throughout east Jerusalem to "come and defend" the mount.

Last week, shortly before Yom Kippur, disturbances flared up across east Jerusalem, beginning when 18 policemen and 15 rioters were hurt during clashes on the Temple Mount, and later elsewhere in the Old City.

A Channel 2 commentator suggested that the riots were not just a reaction to Jewish presence in the compound, but also "induced by fear that Israel would plant false archaeological evidence, as though a Jewish temple never existed in Jerusalem."

Police said some 150 Muslim worshipers participated in last week's disturbance on the Temple Mount, which began when a group of Jewish visitors entered the compound with a police escort.

The Temple Mount compound will also be shut down on Monday, when tens of thousands of Jewish worshipers are expected to pray at the Western Wall. Only Muslim worshipers over the age of 50 will be allowed access to the compound.

Abe Selig contributed to this report.
Click here for a video report from the Jerusalem Post.


From Jaffa Gate - Holy Sepulcher - Haram - Mt. Zion
View of a northern archway on the Temple Mount.

One of the things that has disturbed me about the status quo on the Temple Mount is that Jews (or any non-Muslims) are forbidden to pray there in any way. If the police see someone just moving their lips in prayer they can take the person off the Mount. I understand that some Jews go up to the Mount to pray in order to provoke Muslims - I can see why the police wouldn't want to permit them to do so. But I do wish that some provision could be made for peaceful prayer by non-Muslims. The Temple Mount is the holiest place for Jews. When I visit there, I wish I could pray.


From Muslim Quarter & Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif
Inside view of the ceiling of the Dome of the Chain (situated just to the east of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount).

I would prefer that the permission allow personal, individual prayer, however, not the establishment of a synagogue on the Temple Mount, because it would inevitably be controlled by the most rigidly Orthodox. (Not by the ultra-Orthodox, who wouldn't go on the Temple Mount in any case, as far as a I know). Men and women would be separated in prayer and the men would be in control. I would like unfettered prayer there - not controlled by the Waqf, the Israeli police, or Orthodox Judaism.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from a Jewish family?

This is a fascinating story, if true - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed to have Jewish past.
A photograph of the Iranian president holding up his identity card during elections in March 2008 clearly shows his family has Jewish roots. A close-up of the document reveals he was previously known as Sabourjian – a Jewish name meaning cloth weaver. The short note scrawled on the card suggests his family changed its name to Ahmadinejad when they converted to embrace Islam after his birth.

The Sabourjians traditionally hail from Aradan, Mr Ahmadinejad's birthplace, and the name derives from "weaver of the Sabour", the name for the Jewish Tallit shawl in Persia. The name is even on the list of reserved names for Iranian Jews compiled by Iran's Ministry of the Interior....

A London-based expert on Iranian Jewry said that "jian" ending to the name specifically showed the family had been practising Jews. "He has changed his name for religious reasons, or at least his parents had," said the Iranian-born Jew living in London. "Sabourjian is well known Jewish name in Iran."
An article from 2005 in the Guardian also talks about the name change, but without mentioning that the family was Jewish previously.
The Saborjhian family rented the two-storey house before leaving their impoverished environment in the late 1950s in search of prosperity in Tehran. Mr Ahmadinejad was little more than one year old when they went to the city.

It was a move that coincided with changing the family name, a step taken for a mixture of religious and economic reasons, relatives say.

The name change provides an insight into the devoutly Islamic working-class roots of Mr Ahmadinejad's brand of populist politics. The name Saborjhian derives from thread painter - sabor in Farsi -a once common and humble occupation in the carpet industry in Semnan province, where Aradan is situated.

Ahmad, by contrast, is a name also used for the prophet Muhammad and means virtuous; nejad means race in Farsi, so Ahmadinejad can mean Muhammad's race or virtuous race.
"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," said Mehdi Shahhosseini, 31, son of one of Mr Ahmadinejad's cousins, still living in Aradan.
A skeptical take from Evan Hill, a blogger on a site called The Majlis, points out that the Telegraph and Guardian articles contradict themselves on the meaning of the name Sabourjian. Another thing that strikes me as possibly fishy about the Telegraph article is that it quotes an unnamed "London-based expert on Iranian Jewry." Who is he? Why didn't the article name him?

An article on the Radio Free Europe website from January of this year says that:
Mehdi Khazali, the son of the conservative Ayatollah Khazali, has written on his personal website that he recently learned that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has Jewish roots. Khazali notes that Ahmadinejad changed his family name from Saburjian, and says that the origins of the Saburjian family in the town of Aradan should be investigated.
Is Khazali likely to be a reputable source? Or could he have written this simply to smear Ahmedinejad? A follow-up on this story comes from the Jewish Chronicle:
Dr Mehdi Khazali was reportedly detained after writing on his website earlier this year that the president had changed his family name from Saburjian — thought to be Jewish in origin. And during the election campaign, reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi also challenged Ahmadinejad in a live TV debate to give his full name. The “Jewish Ahmadinejad” dispute has even spread beyond Iran. A Bahrain newspaper, Akhbar al-Khaleej, published an article on the claim.
More on Mr. Khazali's arrest comes from an article this summer (July 5, 2009) in the Jerusalem Post. (The link appears to be broken - I have the text from the International Free Press Society).
The Iranian blogger who claimed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has Jewish roots is being detained by the authorities after he was arrested along with 150 university students earlier this week, according to sources in Teheran.

Dr. Mehdi Khazali, who reportedly participated in several recent opposition demonstrations, was reportedly summoned to a special court convened for religious figures, detained and transferred to an unknown location. The son of a prominent, conservative pro-Ahmadinejad ayatollah, Khazali wrote on his Web site earlier this year that the president – a Holocaust denier and relentless critic of Israel – was of partially Jewish origin, asserting that Ahmadinejad had changed his family name from Saburjian, and calling for the origins of the Saburjian family in the town of Aradan to be investigated.

The assertion featured in the bitter presidential election campaign, when rival reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi challenged Ahmadinejad in a live TV debate, reportedly stating: “My full name is Mehdi Karroubi. What is your full name?” Ahmadinejad gave his full name, according to an Al-Arabiya TV report, but left out one surname which is said to indicate Jewish ancestry.

The “Jewish Ahmadinejad” dispute even spread beyond Iran, when Bahrain’s oldest newspaper, Akhbar al-Khaleej, was briefly shut down by the governing authorities two weeks ago after it published an article recycling the claim.
It will be interesting to see if this report is borne out by further investigations.