Late last year in Oslo, a team of three American, British and Israeli scientists received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work that was done at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. This isn’t a case of geographic happenstance, but rather a symbol of the remarkable success we’ve seen from the bilateral scientific collaboration programs that exist between the United States and Israel.
By fostering innovative products that improve our health, save energy, increase agricultural production, and advance our economies, these programs pay great dividends for both countries.
A few months ago, I learned about these programs firsthand when I had the privilege of returning to Israel for my first visit as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
We must continue to support such efforts. While confronting the existential threats concerning Israel’s security, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and terrorism must always remain our top priority, we must not overlook the potential for innovation and economic growth that exists through collaboration in education, science and technology between our two nations.
Over the past four decades, four bilateral institutions – equally funded by the U.S. and Israel – have invested roughly $1 billion in collaborative research and development into new commercial technologies, life sciences and agricultural research, funding 36 Nobel Prize winners, 11 of them New Yorkers.
What these institutions have been able to achieve is stunning.
The United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), for example, has funded over 4,000 joint basic and applied science research projects since its inception in 1972. New York research institutions such as Cornell and New York University have been the second highest recipients of BSF grants, with 579.
A new drug for bone marrow cancer was found thanks to a Nobel Prize-winning discovery by BSF researchers. More widespread applications are now anticipated for such diseases as asthma, arthritis, multiple sclerosis as well as degenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Other research has pioneered medical approaches promising novel protection agents against chemical warfare and insecticide poisoning.
Another bilateral institution, the United States-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD), supports biotech, telecommunications, electronics, software, and medical device start-ups that often find it difficult to get investment under normal commercial terms.
New York companies comprise the third-largest group of BIRD funding recipients. Patients undergoing CT scans can soon be spared harmful radiation, and doctors will receive better information from X-rays; food products are now safer; and an effort to find a cure for liver disease is underway, all thanks to BIRD.
The United States-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD) focuses on increasing agricultural productivity, food quality and safety, and environmental issues. New York universities received 25 BARD grants in the last five years, many going to Cornell University and Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research. One notable BARD project improves milk production. Others have extended the shelf life of fruit.
Finally, the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Foundation (USISTF) has promoted important agreements between various U.S. states and Israel that encourage and mutually develop various technologies in such varied spheres as biotechnology, telemedicine, and environmental technology in addition to many others.
The U.S.-Israel collaboration and the work of these foundations have had a lasting and fundamental impact on our countries’ economies and relationship. But what is less well known is that these foundations have not only built bridges between our two countries’ scientists, schools and businesses, but have also increased collaboration with Israel’s neighbors.
For example, a BIRD subsidiary, the Trilateral Industrial Development Project (TRIDE), funds an Israeli-Jordanian-U.S. collaboration primarily among software companies.
Likewise, BSF has been supporting small projects involving Israeli and Palestinian scientists to collaborate on public health and water and sewage treatment improvements. BARD has the Multinational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (MARD), which fosters collaborative research among Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and American scientists. The USISTF promotes clean energy work among Israeli, American and Egyptian engineers.
With such quiet, pragmatic steps, science and technology investment is helping to create friendly relations between people who do not have many other opportunities to bridge political divides.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it best: “I think science diplomacy and science and technology cooperation between the United States and other countries is one of our most effective ways of influencing and assisting other nations and creating real bridges between the United States and counterparts.”