US-Israel Relations Go Beyond Peace Process

If all you knew about U.S.-Israel relations was what you learned through the secular press, you might think the ties between the countries were determined solely by progress in the peace process. You might be aware that the United States gives Israel billions of dollars in aid, but would never hear about anything else except perhaps tensions created by the failure of Israel's leadership to act as the President wishes in regard to the peace process. Fortunately, the relationship is much more robust, and so much is happening all the time — most of which has nothing to do with the peace process — that it is impossible to catalogue in one short article. Still, it is worth reminding everyone of some of the cooperative activities that are often ignored.

Let's start with economics. Trade between the two countries increased 18 percent from 1997 to 1998 to a total of more than $15.6 billion. Israel is now our 23rd leading trade partner. The story is even more dramatic on the individual state level. Thirty-one states increased their exports to Israel, some by huge amounts, such as Alabama (305%), Kentucky (97%), Illinois (89%) and West Virginia (80%). Notice that three of the four are not noted as hotbeds of Jewish life. The total value of exports from some of these states is also impressive: 12 states exported more than $100 million worth of goods to Israel. New York's total exceeded $2 billion, making Israel its fifth leading trade partner. Israel ranks as New Jersey's third leading trade partner with exports of $1.3 billion.

In addition to trade ties, 22 states have formal agreements for broad cooperation with Israel and several have ongoing exchanges in areas of education, culture and agriculture. One of the most active is North Carolina, which, for example, adopted an Israeli education program introduced to officials there by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. This peer tutoring program to help second graders improve their reading skills, known here as "Reading Together," was developed at Hebrew University and proved so successful in North Carolina schools that it is now being tested in other states.

Since the early 1980's, strategic cooperation between the two allies has grown exponentially. Even as President Clinton was seeking to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reelection effort, Israeli and U.S. fighter pilots began joint training and conducting simulated aerial combat for the first time. Squadrons of U.S. Navy F-18 and F-14 jets and American F-16 aircraft based in Europe flew to Israel for week-long exercises. After Ehud Barak was elected, one of the first things President Clinton did when he met the new Prime Minister was to create a new strategic planning group. In addition, work continues on a variety of joint military projects such as the Arrow missile and the Tactical High Energy Laser.

Also at that first Clinton-Barak meeting, the two agreed to expand cooperation in space. A working group of NASA and the Israel Space Agency is being created to collaborate on scientific research projects, educational activities, and the development of the peaceful use of space to benefit people around the world. The President also informed the Prime Minister that an Israeli astronaut would fly on a shuttle mission in the year 2000.

Academics from both countries routinely collaborate on projects in virtually every discipline. More than 300 American institutions in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have received funds from binational programs with Israel. Two binational foundations, the Binational Science Foundation (BSF) and the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD), provide grants for joint research that have produced advances in everything from animal production to physics to life sciences. BARD-sponsored research has led to new technologies in drip irrigation, pesticides, fish farming, livestock, poultry, disease control and farm equipment. BSF has documented no less than 75 new discoveries that probably would not have been possible without foundation-supported collaboration.

A third binational foundation, the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD), funds joint U.S.-Israeli teams in the development and commercialization of innovative, nondefense technological products. Since its inception in 1977, BIRD has funded more than 500 joint high-tech R&D projects. Products developed from these ventures have generated sales of $5 billion, tax revenues of more than $700 million in both countries and created an estimated 20,000 American jobs. One of the great things about all three foundations is that their funding is insulated from the political vagaries that can affect other programs and therefore have continued to serve both countries for more than two decades.

It's a shame so little information about these positive aspects of the U.S.-Israel relationship is disseminated to the general public. These "shared value initiatives," as I call them, reinforce the twin pillars on which the special U.S.-Israel friendship is based: shared values and mutual interests. It is this commonality of interests and beliefs that ensures the vitality of the friendship between Israelis and Americans, regardless of the state of the peace process or any other political dispute.