Featured

Meet the Valedictorian of ‘Israel’s MIT': Muslim, Female, Feminist, and a Voice for Academic Freedom

The reigning valedictorian of the medical school at Israel’s Technion – the country’s oldest university, dating back to 1912 – is a Muslim-Arab woman from a Nazareth-area village who only became fluent in Hebrew after leaving home. 27 year old Mais Ali-Saleh, from the village of Yafa an-Naseriyye, considers herself both a feminist and a devout Muslim.

Competition for slots in Israeli medical schools is feirce. With just four medical schools in Israel and thousands of applicants, even talented young Israelis move to Hungary or Italy for medical education. The Technion, in turn, is informally known as “Israel’s MIT”, and is one of the world’s strongest universities.

Her position and success have inevitably led Ali-Saleh to comment on political controversies surrounding Israel. She is, among other things, openly dismissive of efforts to academically isolate Israel. Commenting on the so-called Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), she argiesl that it simply “doesn’t achieve any of its purported objectives”:

Rather than an academic boycott — which targets researchers who want to disseminate knowledge rather than restrict it — Ali-Selah suggests a more active stance: encouraging academic life within the Palestinian Authority and strengthening academic ties with Palestinian universities, planning joint research projects with Palestinian scientists, and admitting more Palestinian scholars to European and American universities for academic programs. Ali-Selah said that because she did medical research, the boycott did not negatively impact her work, but sooner or later, she said that it will impinge upon academic researchers she knows, both Jews and Arabs.

On a recent trip to Europe, she recalls, people were surprised to learn that Israeli Arabs study engineering and medicine and that they live among Jews. As for Islam, she sees no reason that her feminism and religious devotion can’t coexist.

As she told reporter Diana Bletter, “There is nowhere in the Koran that states women should not study.”

[Photo: Beny Shlevich / Flickr]