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Israel celebrates 60 years of its founding and 50 years of successful American-Israeli academic cooperation

Summary of an important period by Neil Sherman, CEO of the USA-Israel Education Fund

Neil Sherman, director of the USA Israel Education Fund
Neil Sherman, director of the USA Israel Education Fund

When Abraham Hershko and Aaron Chachanover received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004, together with their co-teacher Irwin Rose from the University of California-Irvine, their joint win highlighted the vital contribution of the Israeli-American partnership to the achievements of the State of Israel in the field of science. On the contrary, in the official autobiographies prepared by Hershko and Cchanover for the Nobel Prize Institute, the close integration between Israeli and American science is felt throughout the careers of the two Israeli researchers, beginning with their post-doctoral research studies in the USA, and ending with their joint work with Rose. Each step in the long process that led to the clarification of the operation of the ubiquitin mechanism for protein degradation inside the cell was characterized by rich Israeli-American cross-fertilization.

The autobiographies also show that at critical stages it was government funding that made the collaboration possible. Chechenover's post-doc period at MIT was supported by a scholarship from the American Fulbright Program for the exchange of lecturers and students, and the work of Hershko's laboratory at the Technion was supported for many years by a series of research grants from the American National Institutes of Health. – NIH).

The infrastructure of the Israeli-American partnership, on which major achievements of Israeli academic research are based, was built on the basis of three main factors: the openness of the Israeli scientific system to the world; the leading position of the American research system in the entire world; and a government policy that financially supports Israeli-American scientific cooperation.

The Israeli academic science system strives to connect with centers of excellence in the entire world:
The founding fathers of the Israeli academic science system realized that without close and ongoing contact with the leading science centers in Europe and the US, Israeli research was doomed to provincial mediocrity, at best. Therefore, they designed a system that requires and enables partnerships with abroad. On the one hand, the system judges the only academic staff member according to his achievements in the international arena - that is, according to his publications in scientific journals published abroad; And on the other hand, the system gives the scientist the special resources he needs to integrate into the international system - that is, generous science-relationship and sabbatical funds, with which the scientist can build his network of partnerships with colleagues abroad.

Another, less positive reason spurs openness to the world: an insufficient level of investment in equipment and facilities forces many Israeli scientists to look for opportunities to work in the summer and on sabbaticals in laboratories abroad, which are more sophisticated and better equipped than their home laboratories here in Israel.

The USA leads the world in scientific research in almost every significant field:
Tremendous economic resources and the openness, flexibility, and competitiveness of its culture and its organizational system have made the USA the leading country in the world in scientific research. This fact is reflected in two common productivity indicators: the amount of scientific publications; and their quality, as reflected in the number of times each article is cited in other articles.

The scientific output of the USA is the largest of any country in the world - American researchers are involved in 29% of the articles published in 2005. Although, there has been a decline in American dominance since 1995, when the share of the USA in publications was 34%, but in 2005 there was still no other single country in the world that produced even 10% of all articles (Japan - 8%; Great Britain - 6%; Germany -6%; China - 6%; France - 4%; Russia - 2%). The American lead was felt, both in 1995 and in 2005, in every major field of research: engineering, chemistry, physics, earth sciences, mathematics, biological sciences, medical sciences.

In terms of citations, the situation is similar: in 2005, 41% of all citations were of articles written by American researchers, alone or in partnership with foreign scientists (compared to 50% in 1995). The weight of the articles of American studies was higher, the more cited articles: in the group of articles that were cited 7 to 9 times, American articles accounted for 42% of the total; In the 1% of the most cited articles (22 or more times), the weight of the American articles was 55% (2005 data: here, too, there was a decrease in American prominence compared to 1995).

Over the past 50 years, the Israeli and US governments have invested significant budgets in fostering scientific cooperation between the research institutions of the two countries:
The American Fulbright program for the exchange of lecturers and students was the first government program that was activated to promote the scientific ties between Israel and the USA. In 1956, the two governments signed a treaty to establish the Fulbright Authority for Israel, the United States-Israel Educational Foundation (USIEF), which is responsible for sending/hosting Israelis to the US and hosting Americans in the country. Since the foundation's inception, more than 1,400 Israelis have visited the US as Fulbright fellows, and more than 1,100 Americans have visited Israel.

The Fulbright program left its mark on academic science in Israel, as evidenced by several representative facts: As mentioned above, one of the first Israeli Nobel Prize winners in the natural sciences, Aharon Chachanover, was a fellow of the program. In 2006, when the program celebrated its milestone in Israel, the presidents of 4 of the 7 research universities in Israel (Hebrew; Weizmann Institute; Tel Aviv; Haifa) were graduates of the Fulbright program. Twenty-four graduates of the Fulbright program, from a wide spectrum of professions, won the Israel Prize.

Over the years, two funds were added to the Education Fund, which is responsible for the Fulbright program, whose main purpose is the financing of joint Israeli-American research.

The BSF (Binational Science Foundation) was established in 1972. Since its inception, the foundation has awarded more than 4,000 grants for Israeli-American research, mainly basic-academic projects, designed to serve peaceful purposes and benefit both countries. The foundation also supports American-Israeli scientific workshops.

In 1979 BARD (Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund) was established. BARD funds joint American-Israeli research in the field of agriculture, mostly focused on increasing the efficiency of agricultural production, especially in hot and dry climates. In the years 1979 - 2005, more than 1,000 binational research teams won BARD grants. The foundation also supports workshops and grants visiting scholarships to graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and senior researchers.

In recent years, the annual grant budgets of the foundations stand at approximately 1.2 million dollars - the Education Fund; About 14 million dollars – BSF; And about 9.3 million dollars - BARD.

The influence of the three factors surveyed - the openness of the Israeli system abroad; the dominant position of American science; and government investment in strengthening cooperation - is reflected in the centrality of scientific cooperation with the United States in the map of the international relations of Israeli academic science.

American researchers are involved in the publication of 44% of all articles based on international collaboration (2005) but in 53% of the international articles by Israeli researchers. This figure is tens of percent higher than the corresponding index for European countries and Japan. Cooperation with the USA is important to such an extent only in countries geographically close to the USA (Canada -52%: Mexico 43%), or in countries related to the USA in a special relationship, such as Israel (Taiwan - 56%, South Korea -55%) Turkey- 45%).

The contribution of cooperation with the United States to the quality of Israeli science is felt in the citation data of the Israeli articles. According to the analyzes of Professor Gideon Shafsky from the Hebrew University, in each of the years 1996 - 2005, articles published with American partners received more than twice the citations of articles published by Israeli authors alone (the ratio ranges from 2.19 to 3.11).

Where is the scientific-academic cooperation between Israel and the USA headed?

An examination of the sources of funding for Israeli academic researchers in the period 1994-2002, conducted by Dr. Irwin Asher for the Israel Academy of Sciences, showed that starting in 2000 funding from sources aimed at strengthening Israeli-European cooperation exceeded funding intended to promote Israeli-American cooperation: 1995 the ratio between European joint venture funding and American joint venture funding was 0.53; in 1999 – 1.00; In 2002 – 2.25! Two main factors explained the change: on the one hand, the total number of grants from the German-Israeli Foundation GIF increased; And even more important, Israel joined the framework program for scientific and technological development of the European Union. On the other hand, during the same period, when there was a sharp increase in the budgetary resources aimed at partnerships with Europe, the budgets for American partnerships went through instead or even decreased.

Today, many in the academic research system are asking if the pendulum has not moved too far in the European direction, if there is no need to renew the momentum of public investment in strengthening science ties with the United States. Certainly the managements of the Israeli-American academic foundations, together with BIRD, the Israeli-American Foundation for Cooperation in Industrial R&D, are working with the two governments to obtain additional funds.

The public debate on this policy issue will continue in the coming years. In the meantime, one fact stands out, which everyone can interpret according to their own understanding in the debate about research budgets: in the 60th year of Israel's independence, the scientific ties between Israel and the US remain strong, despite the erosion of public resources dedicated to their promotion. In 2005, nine years after Israel joined the European framework program, Israeli scientific articles published with American partners accounted for 20% of all Israeli publications and 54% of articles published with foreign partners; This is compared to 19% and 53% in 2000, and 18% and 57% in 1996. The Israeli-American cooperation meanwhile maintains its place as one of the foundations on which Israeli academic research rests - both quantitatively and qualitatively.

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