Partners In R&D


Ann Liebschutz is executive director for the United States-Israel Science & Technology Foundation (USISTF), a Washington-based nonprofit that facilitates research and development collaboration between the U.S. and Israel. It has just released its first U.S.-Israel Innovation Index, which measures and tracks America’s relationship between Israel and 15 other nations in innovation-related activities.

Q: The survey found that the U.S.–Israel relationship is the strongest among countries included in the index. Has it existed a long time?

A: The relationship has been historically strong with R&D and high-tech. It has been strong since Israel’s high-tech took off in the ’90s.

It is no secret that the U.S. and Israel collaborate on R&D and high-tech.

But now we have proof — a set of metrics that can provide details of why it is strong and the elements that make it strong.

Were you surprised by any of the results?

Knowing that the inspiration for the survey was the recognition that the relationship is a robust one, we predicted we would see a good U.S.-Israel score and we were pleasantly surprised to see it confirmed. We found that the relationship is in good company. Canada is the U.S.’s largest trading partner, and there are close cultural connections in the U.S.-Switzerland relationship. Switzerland invests in R&D and it has a robust pharmaceutical industry. To see Israel in such company affirms its strong performance.

How did you select the 15 other countries with which to compare U.S. relations?

When we put the list together we wanted countries with geographical diversity, those that had important trade relationships with the U.S., as well as a similar knowledge and intensive industrial sector similar to that of Israel so that we could get the data standardized.

The survey found that the relative strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship was in the mid-range when it came to human capital, trailing Canada, Switzerland, Finland and Sweden. What did that measure?

That category looked at such things as each country’s higher education expenditure on R&D, scientific journal co-authorship and U.S. doctorate degrees received by foreign nationals. Some other countries have more students getting science, technology and doctorate degrees, but Israel’s expenditure on education in R&D placed around the middle of all the countries on a normalized basis.

What do you hope will be done with your findings?

It might be used as a tool to encourage more investments in R&D or to continue with what is being done. So it might be used as an opportunity to try to affect change for the better or to encourage the kind of activity that is proving to be productive.

An important byproduct of this effort is to enable professionals to have a matrix that would be able to substantiate the need for greater investment. Dr. Ruth Arnon [an Israeli biochemist and co-developer of the multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone] recently made the case for increased investment in the higher education R&D budget. Now we have a tool that looks at Israel’s spending compared to other countries, and it shows that it affects our ability to collaborate with other countries. If we can increase our investment, it would increase our performance in the other sectors.

In surveying U.S.-Israel collaboration, what did you learn about the fact that Israel receives a significant amount of U.S. foreign aid — nearly $2.8 billion or five times more than the next largest recipient, South Africa?

Our role was to take a forensic look at the numbers and report what we found. But we know that Israel is the one democracy in the Middle East and this aid helps protect our democratic ally in the Middle East. We thought it was OK to put that into this publication because we believe it leads to more collaboration between U.S. and Israeli defense forces. The military is a very high-tech institution that is innovative and technically advanced.

For instance, we included the Iron Dome in the publication because it is a high-profiled and visible example of the level of innovation that comes out of Israel-U.S. collaboration. We are in sync on a variety of products — such as in defense or to restore human health — and this cooperation leads to excellent new products..