Meet the Syrian-born Kurdish editor-in-chief of German Jewish newspaper

Laila Mirzo said she has multiple identities – Syrian, Kurdish and German – and a wide spectrum of knowledge about Islam, the Middle East, antisemitism and Judaism.

 Laila Mirzo (photo credit: Robert Maybach)
Laila Mirzo
(photo credit: Robert Maybach)

Journalist Laila Mirzo was appointed the first Syrian-born-Kurdish and non-Jewish editor-in-chief of The Jewish Review (Jüdische Rundschau), a major German Jewish newspaper.

Mirzo said she has multiple identities – Syrian, Kurdish and German – and a wide spectrum of knowledge about Islam, the Middle East, antisemitism and Judaism.

Mirzo started the position in February as editor-in-chief for the monthly independent publication, where she had been working since 2017.

“I experience antisemitism vicariously as editor-in-chief. People’s faces change when I tell [them where I work and what I do],” said Mirzo.

Since its restart in 2014, The Jewish Review has garnered a reputation as a hard-hitting pro-Israel newspaper that exposes antisemitism and radical Islam in the Federal Republic.

German and Israeli national flags (credit: REUTERS)German and Israeli national flags (credit: REUTERS)

The Review confronts a formidable foe. According to a study conducted by the German government in 2017, nearly 33 million Germans, 40% of the population of 82 million, hold contemporary antisemitic views – including hatred of Israel.

The Jewish Review was first published in 1902 in Berlin. Before being banned by the Nazis in 1938, it was the highest circulating Zionist publication and was printed weekly, as part of the Zionist Federation of Germany.

How Laila Mirzo's view on Israel changed

Mirzo’s multi-layered background gives her a strong foothold in both worlds – Europe and the Middle East.

“I wish that people, not just in the Middle East but around the world, approach Israel honestly. The largest poison is the propaganda. Today everyone can be informed; information can be exchanged.”

“I wish that people, not just in the Middle East but around the world, approach Israel honestly. The largest poison is the propaganda. Today everyone can be informed; information can be exchanged.”

Laila Mirzo

She added “I admire Israel,” noting it is a country “circled by enemies.”

Mirzo, who was born in Damascus in 1978 and raised in the Syrian-controlled section of the Golan Heights, said she experienced significant changes growing up later in Germany via intensive personal interactions.

The Assad family and the Syrian Ba’ath party that have ruled Syria since 1971 have infused genocidal antisemitism in all walks of life in the Syrian Arab Republic. Mirzo said, “Israel was enemy number one in television and in school. Everywhere, there was propaganda [against Israel].”

“Israel was enemy number one in television and in school. Everywhere, there was propaganda [against Israel].”

Laila Mirzo

She added that in children’s television programs, Jews were depicted with “hooked noses, like in Nazi propaganda, and the message was that Jews murder children.”

In 1989, Mirzo arrived in Germany with her German mother. A year later, her Syrian Kurdish father joined them.

She described her late parents as “very modern” people who discussed the Jewish state in “pro-Israel” terms. “My father studied in Beirut and lived by a Jewish family; he was the Shabbos goy.”

She said “it was a long process” to shake off her anti-Israel sentiments, saying that, in her opinion, “Public media in Germany is anti-Israel.”

“Public media in Germany is anti-Israel.”

Laila Mirzo

Her first awakening to this came in elementary school. One incident involved learning the song of the “enemy,” “Hava Nagila.”

She said the book My Jerusalem – Your al-Quds helped contribute to her debunking the myths of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The book is about an Israeli boy and an Arab boy who meet in a Jerusalem hospital.

HER TURN AWAY from the left-wing and anti-Israel scene started in her mid-30s. She said she met a German Jew in Passau who played a key role in changing her “distorted” views.

Mirzo said she “got rid of her leftist ideology” and “burned her Che Guevara t-shirt and PLO flag.”

She then became a fierce critic of Islam and Islamic-animated antisemitism. “There is no difference between Islam and Islamism,” she said, citing the Prophet Mohammed’s use of violence toward the Jews in Medina as a “model for Muslims” today.

Her lack of distinction between Islam and Islamism is currently at the center of a lively contemporary debate among Muslims and ex-Muslims worldwide.

“The Jews can give up Jerusalem but the Arabs will still want to throw them into the sea,” said Mirzo, who is highly skeptical about peace efforts because the conflict in the Middle East is “not only a territorial problem but a religious problem.”

Mirzo’s book Only a bad Muslim is a good Muslim outlines her criticisms of Islam.

“We have an Islamic Jew-hatred problem. I will not play down extreme right-wing antisemitism but there is also left-wing antisemitism.”

“We have an Islamic Jew-hatred problem. I will not play down extreme right-wing antisemitism but there is also left-wing antisemitism.”

Laila Mirzo

One of Mirzo’s anecdotes about her time in Syria involves the Mossad.

“The Mossad saved my life,” she said. In the 1980s, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood blew up a bus. "The Mossad had tapped a military phone line right on the road that led to our village. This was discovered by the Syrian military and traffic from Quneitra was therefore diverted as the road was dug up and searched for bugs and switchboards. That's why we didn't get on the bus with the bomb.”

Dr. Rafael Korenzecher, the publisher of The Jewish Review, said that Mirzo’s “incorruptible attitude toward Israel and the Jews made her interesting as a candidate” for the role.

 The main print competitor for the publication is the Berlin-based weekly Jüdische Allgemeine Zeitung (JAZ).

Korenzecher said The Jewish Review’s objective was to be “uncomfortable, independent and objective.”

Some commentators note that the Review leans conservative, but the paper’s diverse content defies the desire to categorize and classify. It serves as a tough critic of Germany’s left-wing and Green parties. It has also slammed Iran as well as immigration policies set by former chancellor Angela Merkel.

Korenzecher said, “Other critics of the JAZ, such as Henryk Broder [columnist for Die Welt] and Chaim Noll [German-Israeli author], have stated that the JAZ is not independent and probably cannot be because it is financed by the federal government. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you. The Jewish Review is privately financed and has not received funds from any state institution or foundation.”

According to Korenzecher, “One of the axioms of The Jewish Review is to unreservedly support the Jewish cause” and expose “Jew-hatred and anti-Zionism.”