Where To Gauge U.S.-Israel Relations

The public perception of the U.S.-Israel relationship is almost entirely shaped by the level of accord or discord between government officials in peace negotiations. Thus, the undisguised disdain of the Clinton Administration for the Netanyahu government has created the perception that ties are severely strained. In truth, much of the substance of the relationship is now conducted outside the Beltway and the state-to-state connections are flourishing as never before.

The most important foreign policy at the state level is the promotion of trade. In 1996, the 50 states and the District of Columbia exported nearly $6 billion worth of manufacturing goods to Israel. In the last six years, California, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Texas each exported more than $1 billion worth of goods, with New York's total reaching $6.7 billion. Israel is New Jersey's fourth leading trade partner and New York's seventh.

Well, you're thinking, of course, Israel is doing lots of business with large states with substantial Jewish populations. Look again at the list. Louisiana, whose Jewish community is 0.4 percent of the state total, actually ranks fifth in trade, ahead of Illinois and Ohio. Maine's trade with Israel totaled only $43 million in 1996, but that was enough to make it the State's ninth leading trade partner. The bottom line for states is found at the bottom line where trade with Israel has paid off handsomely.

Trade is important, but some of the most exciting news in U.S.-Israel relations is in areas like scientific research, agriculture and culture. In fact, 21 states have formal agreements with Israel. The earliest one was signed with Texas, which is also the only state with a fund specifically designed to implement the agreement. The Texas-Israel Exchange (TIE) Fund has provided grants for a number of joint projects including a breeding program aimed at increasing lamb production in Israel and Texas.

Perhaps the most activity takes place between North Carolina and Israel. The third largest school district adopted an Israeli peer tutoring program introduced to the State by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. It has been so successful, it is expected to go statewide soon and eventually be replicated across the country. The Autism Project involves exchanges of information and training between the two countries. A cultural exchange began in the fall of 1996 and included 11 exhibitions, film festivals, artist residencies and public programs designed to explore Israeli art and make it available throughout the State and Southeast. A teaching curriculum for dealing with stress in children who live in regions of war and terrorism is being jointly developed and will involve teachers and students at the Jordan Institute for Families at the University of North Carolina and Tel Hai College in the Upper Galilee. And this is just a sampling of what that state is doing.

In addition, approximately 400 institutions in 42 states and the District of Columbia have engaged in joint scientific research through the Binational Science Foundation and another 106 institutions in 40 states have participated in projects sponsored by the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD). These projects have produced a variety of breakthroughs of benefit to both nations and provided millions of dollars in funds to researchers. Roughly 375 U.S. companies in 33 states have shared grants from the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD) that have generated sales of $5 billion and tax revenues of more than $700 million in both countries.

Israel's detractors would have you believe the U.S.-Israel relationship is solely a product of Jewish money and political influence. How then do you explain the fact that many of the states with Israel agreements have negligible Jewish populations, such as Nebraska, Oklahoma and Vermont? The newest state to join the club is Alabama, whose Governor Fob James, Jr. led a trade mission to Israel and October and is said to love the country. An estimated 9,000 Jews live in the entire state.

Israel and every U.S. state have much to gain from scientific and cultural exchanges, trade and tourism. No matter what happens in the peace process or the pluralism debate, these benefits will exist and grow. And it is these relationships between the peoples of the United States and Israel that define our special friendship.