Adventurous Israeli correspondent is the genuine article

If central casting had to fill the role of an intrepid, trench coat–wearing reporter crisscrossing the globe, Natasha Mozgovaya would get a callback.

She’s not acting. As chief U.S. correspondent for the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, Mozgovaya is the real deal: a dogged journalist and the first senior reporter in the mainstream Israeli media to emerge from the huge Russian aliyah of the 1990s.

Mozgovaya recently visited the Bay Area for a pair of public speeches sponsored by the Israel Center, sharing her insights about Israeli media and the regional conflict.

Journalist Natasha Mozgovaya speaks about her work as U.S. correspondent for Ha’aretz. photo/cathleen maclearie

One of those speeches she delivered in Russian, Mozgovaya’s first language. Born in 1979 in the former Soviet Union and raised in Israel by parents who are both journalists, she is perfectly trilingual, but not quite tricultural. Based since 2008 near Washington, D.C., where she lives with her husband and two children, she still finds aspects of American life puzzling.

“You see things like ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’” the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, “and there is a bitter fight over it in the most democratic country in the world?” said Mozgovaya. “Burning the Koran is kind of incomprehensible. I don’t know where you draw the line between the right to express yourself and your right to hurt others.”

Not that she is easily shocked. In her career with Ha’aretz and prior to that the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, she covered many top stories, from Israel’s Gaza disengagement and the Second Lebanon War to election riots in Kenya and AIDS in Africa.

Some of those stories couldn’t be any more dangerous to cover than the ongoing Middle East conflict. Or could they?

“It’s actually a luxury to work as a journalist in Israel,” she said, “because no one chops your fingers off for writing something wrong. Nobody throws you in prison, and still you have the perfect conflict to cover. That’s why so many journalists are covering Syria from Jerusalem.”

That’s not been Mozgovaya’s style. She goes in the hard way, working alone, taking her own photos and trusting her instincts. Her basic rule when working in a bad neighborhood like Afghanistan or post-earthquake Haiti: Get to a safe place before dark.

She knows the job can be dangerous, as it was for CBS reporter Lara Logan, who was gang-raped in Cairo during the Egyptian revolution earlier this year. She says when she and her husband watched Logan’s gripping “60 Minutes” account of her ordeal, her husband began to cry.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Is it absolutely necessary that you do this?’ I told him women reporters are not doing this for adrenaline. I do it because I think it’s important.”

On its editorial pages, with writers like Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, Ha’aretz tends to represent the left end of the political spectrum. The newspaper often faces harsh criticism. Mozgovaya believes her paper is balanced when it comes to news.

“We are, after all, a liberal newspaper,” said Mozgovaya, who considers herself a strictly neutral reporter, “but we are an Israeli newspaper. I think we do provide two sides.”

Before covering Beltway politics and the American Jewish community, she often wrote about the underdogs of society, having traveled to places such as war-torn Darfur and East Asia, where human trafficking is rampant.

She has sympathy for Palestinian hardship, too, but she feels the global obsession with Israel’s presence in the Palestinian territories is out of proportion.

“There are no flotillas sailing to Syria,” she noted. “Aren’t there people suffering there? Why don’t they sail to Somalia? Because of this [media] attention, Israelis and Palestinians have stopped thinking about each other and talk only to the world. If we could be a little less special, then maybe we’d have a chance to remember we live side by side.”

Meanwhile, the turmoil goes on, and though she primarily covers American stories, Mozgovaya will never hesitate to grab her travel bag, hop a plane and head for some far-off trouble spot — even one as potentially hostile as a country in the  Arab world currently in the throes of sweeping change. Those changes worry the Israeli reporter.

“It’s not a quiet region,” she said. “We have question marks on every border of Israel. I would love to be optimistic, but as a Russian I know revolutions do not always have a happy ending.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.