FOR Professor Mona Khoury-Kassabri, becoming the first female Israeli Arab dean of an Israeli university midway through last year was a milestone event, as it was for Israeli academia.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s (HUJ) dean of social sciences was upbeat about her first year in the role, as she talked to The AJN ahead of her visit to Australia later this month for Australian Friends of the Hebrew University.
Khoury-Kassabri, a Christian Arab, recalled “a lot of excitement” when she was appointed. “In addition to my excitement, a lot of Jewish and Arab people wrote me emails … a lot of people were waiting for some sort of change, and then they were happy that it happened in academia.”
Noting the academic sphere is often an early adopter of new trends, she hopes her work will inspire the country’s 1.9 million Israeli Arabs to become more engaged.
“I believe that through education we make a change, otherwise we will not change our situation and the situation in Israel,” she said of Israel’s Arab community.
The dean, who studied in Israel and Canada, credits education as her ticket out of her struggling childhood neighbourhood in Haifa. But though her parents strived to make sure she would go to university, she could not even imagine one day becoming a professor and a departmental dean of a top Israeli university.
Khoury-Kassabri considers herself fortunate to be involved in teaching social work and its egalitarian values. “When I was a student, I noticed a lot of faculty members discussed these issues in their classes.” She believes there are now efforts to broaden this approach from her department to other faculties.
She said HUJ is becoming an even more diverse campus, and she is actively involved in bringing Charedi students into her faculty with scholarships.
When she began her HUJ role, Israel had passed its nation-state law and demoted Arabic from an official Israeli language. “I was disappointed as a citizen of this country. If you want me to belong and to encourage me to be part of this country, you can’t exclude me.”
She was buoyed by an HUJ decision “that every sign around the university should be in three languages – Hebrew, Arabic and English … So I’m happy to be part of an institution that goes against this decision [to demote Arabic]. I hope the new government will change that [nation-state] law.”
In an Australian tour themed, “Shattering the Glass Ceiling”, Professor Mona Khoury-Kassabri will be on a female panel facilitated by Carol Schwartz at King David School’s Rebecca Magid Centre, 520 Orrong Road, Armadale, Wednesday evening, October 23.
She will also be on a female panel facilitated by Jillian Segal at the Sydney Jewish Museum on Sunday evening, October 27.
Bookings via www.austfhu.org.au or (02) 9389 2825.