Guess who graduated first in this year's medical school class at the Technion, Israel's version of M.I.T.? The answer will surprise you. It's a 27-year-old stereotype-buster: a charming, feminist, smart, open-minded and observant Islamic woman named Mais Ali-Saleh who grew up in a small village outside of Nazareth, in Israel's Galilee.
Ali-Selah's academic excellence not only marks her own personal achievement but also proves that contrary to propaganda spouted by proponents of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement -- whose latest convert is Stephen Hawking -- an academic boycott of Israel is the wrong approach to solving the Israel-Arab conflict. Moreover, it ultimately hurts the very people it claims to help. Ali-Selah put it best when she said, "An academic boycott of Israel is a passive move, and it doesn't achieve any of its purported objectives."
After Ali-Selah's first class at the Technion, in Haifa, northern Israel, she was ready to call it quits. Ali-Selah had studied Hebrew from elementary school through high school but in the predominantly Arab area around Nazareth, she rarely used Hebrew and her vocabulary was limited. During Ali-Selah's first Chemistry lecture, she couldn't understand why her professor kept talking about malls. What did shopping malls have to do with Chemistry? She then realized the professor was speaking about moles, a standard scientific unit for measuring quantities of minute entities.
It did not take long for her to break through her limited language skills and rise to the top of her class. In fact, in 2011, she was one of eight students from around Israel who were presented with academic awards of excellence at the Knesset, Israel's Senate.
Ali-Selah claims that her academic drive is "part genes and part family background." After raising four children, Ali-Selah's mother, Fahima, went back to school to complete her college education and is now studying for a PhD in education. (Ali-Selah's father, Rohi, would have liked to continue his education but his father died when he was a high school senior and he was forced to go to work to support his younger siblings.) Ali-Selah said that the atmosphere in the village, Jaffa-Nazareth, is liberal and many of its residents encourage young women to further their education.