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State-to-State Cooperation: Tennessee and Israel

Tennessee Jewish History



Trade and Population Statistics

Exports to Israel (2017)


      Percentage Change (2016-2017)


      Total Exports to Israel (1996-Present)


Israel's Trade Partner Rank (2017)


Military Contracts with Israel (2012)


Jewish Population (2017)


      Jewish Percentage of Population



Binational foundation grants shared by Tennessee and Israel

Agricultural Research & Development (1979-Present)


Science & Technology (1999-Present)


Industrial Research & Development (1977-Present)


Total Binational Grants



Grant recipients in Tennessee from U.S.-Israel binational foundations:

Celerity Systems Inc.
Memphis State
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Tennessee Technological University
Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA Energy)
University of Tennessee
Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt Medical School
World Health Organization

Bilateral Institutions

Conexx (formerly the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Southeast Division) was established in 1992 as a non-profit, non-governmental agency serving Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee. It is committed to connecting Americans and Israelis through the vehicle of business. Conexx assists Israeli companies seeking U.S. market entry and American companies interested in the Israeli market. Conexx works with more than 140 Israeli companies in the Southeast, helps drive investments, deals and employment gain in the region and in Israel.  Since its inception, Conexx has been involved in completed transactions valued at over $1 billion, thereby contributing to the economies of both Israel and the Southeastern United States.

Cooperative Agreements - "Memoranda of Understanding"

In 1996, Governor Don Sundquist signed the Tennessee-Israel Cooperation Agreement to promote cooperation between the two countries in trade, arts, culture, education, tourism and university/industry alliances.

Tennessee Government Missions to Israel

August 2011 - Congressmen Scott DesJarlais and Chuck Fleischman traveled to Israel as part of the 81-member delegation to meet with top Israeli officials and learn more about the American-Israeli relationship. The American Israel Educational Foundation funded the trip.

Partners For Change

The U.S.-Israel relationship is based on the twin pillars of shared values and mutual interests. Given this commonality of interests and beliefs, it should not be surprising that support for Israel is one of the most pronounced and consistent foreign policy values of the American people.

It is more difficult to devise programs that capitalize on the two nations' shared values than their security interests; nevertheless, such programs do exist. In fact, these SHARED VALUE INITIATIVES cover a broad range of areas, including the environment, science and technology, education and health.

As analyst David Pollock noted, Israel is an advanced country with a population that surpassed eight million people in 2013 and a robust, dynamic economy that allowed it to join the  Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Between 2005 and 2013, Israel has represented a larger market for U.S. exports than Saudi Arabia. Although Israel's citizenry make up just 3 percent of the total region's population, Israel accounts for 25 percent of American exports in the Middle East.

"It has also been one of the top 20 foreign direct investors in the United States since 2009," Pollock confirms. He adds that "$2.25 billion of the $3 billion in annual U.S. aid to Israel comes back via Israeli purchases of U.S. military equipment - and that is just 5 percent of the total bilateral trade each year."

Today's interdependent global economy requires that trade policy be developed at the national and state level.

Many states have recognized the opportunity for realizing significant benefits by seeking to increase trade with Israel. Tennessee is one of 33 states that have cooperative agreements with Israel.

In 2012, Tennessee exported over $61 million worth of manufacturing goods to Israel. Since 1996, Tennessee exports to Israel have totaled more than $709,713,315 and Israel now ranks as Tennessee’s 27th leading trade partner.

Additionally in 2012, Tennessee received more than $9.5 million in foreign military financing (FMF) for US military aid to Israel. Some of those companies that have received funding through FMF in 2012 or past years include: Wellco Enterprises Inc. in Knoxville, BAE Systems in Kingsport and Tennalum in Jackson.

Israel is certainly a place where potential business and trade partners can be found. It can also be a source, however, for innovative programs and ideas for addressing problems facing the citizens of Tennessee.

Israel has developed a number of pioneering education programs. For example, AICE introduced an innovative Israeli peer tutoring program to North Carolina that educators adapted for use in the United States. Now known as Reading Together, the program is used in 28 states. The program is designed to help students achieve reading fluency and is mostly used for children in second grade. The hope is that with its implementation, increasing numbers of students will perform at grade level or above.

A range of other exciting approaches to social problems like unemployment, environmental protection and drug abuse have been successfully implemented in Israel and could be imported for the benefit of Americans.

The potential for greater cooperation with Israel for the benefit of Tennessee is limited only by the imagination.

Tennessee Firms Profit From Business With Israel

As the only country with free trade agreements with both the United States and the European community, Israel can act as a bridge for international trade between the United States and Europe. Moreover, because of the deep pool of talent, particularly in high-technology areas, Israel provides excellent investment opportunities. Some of the nation’s largest companies, such as IBM, Microsoft, Motorola, Intel and McDonald’s have found that it is indeed profitable to do business in Israel.

Seventy-five Tennesseans in the business, government, arts, culture, education and university sectors spent one week in January of 1997 on a trade mission to Israel. This was the first major initiative of the Tennessee-Israel Cooperation Agreement that was signed by Governor Don Sunquist in February 1996. The Tennessee-Israel Cooperation Committee serves to enhance the technological, research and development infrastructure of Tennessee and Israel; to increase cultural interchange between the two and to promote a deeper understanding of shared values. While on the trade mission, Governor Sunquist called on some of Israel’s leading industrial companies, asking them to consider establishing facilities in Tennessee or joint ventures with Tennessee companies. Specific projects were proposed for the automotive and healthcare sectors.

More than 50 Tennessee companies have discovered the benefits of doing business in Israel, including Federal Express, Advanced Vehicle Systems and Beck-Arnley World Parts.

In September 1997, the U.S.-Israel Automotive Industry Business Exchange in Nashville, hosted by government agencies in Tennessee and Israel, the Jewish community federations, the American Israeli Chamber of Commerce and Saturn Corporation, brought together 26 leading American automotive firms and 15 Israeli companies. The goal of the day was for Israeli companies to interest their American counterparts in products such as precision metals, hose assemblies, bonded rubber-metal engine parts and innovative safety features. Among the high-tech parts shown that were originally developed for military purposes was a Global Positioning Satellite navigation system that can locate a stolen car or distressed vehicle.

According to Link Magazine, one of the more promising proposals for a joint venture in the automotive industry between the U.S. and Israel, now under consideration in Israel, is the collaboration between Chattanooga-based Advanced Vehicle Systems Inc. and Jerusalem-based Electric Fuel. Advanced Systems is the designer of battery-powered buses and Electric Fuel designs a superior electric battery. Together, these two companies have jointly built 15 quiet, clean, zero emission AVS-built buses that are already operating in downtown Chattanooga.

Ira Davis, President of Beck-Arnley World Parts not only went on the trade mission with the Governor but also sponsored a reciprocal trade mission for Israel. Davis has been importing auto parts from Israel for about 20 years and said “it’s a good place to do business.”

Ofer Anaby, marketing manager for Flying Cargo, the Israeli firm that holds the FedEx franchise in Israel, told Link that Memphis-based Federal Express was one of the first express delivery services to “recognize Israel’s emerging high-tech economy as a business opportunity.” Flying Cargo was established in 1990 and today employs 250 people. Anaby added that while Israel only accounts for $35 million of the company’s $15 billion global business, Israel is part of FedEx’s global outreach strategy and has proven to be “a steadily growing market” primarily due to the huge growth in Israeli telecommunications software, hardware and pharmaceuticals.

One good way to break into the Israeli market is through a joint venture with an Israeli company. Funding for such projects is available from the Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD). BIRD funds projects in 36 states and the District of Columbia and hundreds of companies including AOL, GE, BP Solar, Texas Instruments and Johnson & Johnson have benefitted from BIRD grants.

The United States and Israel established BIRD in 1977 to fund joint U.S.-Israeli teams in the development and subsequent commercialization of innovative, nondefense technological products from which both the Israeli and American company can expect to derive benefits commensurate with the investments and risks. Most grant recipients are small businesses involved with software, instrumentation, communications, medical devices and semiconductors.

Since its inception, BIRD has funded more than 800 joint high-tech R&D projects through conditional grants totaling more than $210 million. Products developed from these ventures have generated more than $8 billion in direct and indirect revenues for both countries and has helped to create an estimated 20,000 American jobs. Dr. Eli Opper, the former Israeli chair of BIRD, has said that BIRD is a strong pillar of US-Israel industrial cooperation and that the extreme success of BIRD has led Israel to adopt similar models of R&D with other countries.

Tennessee companies have benefited from nearly $125 million in BIRD grants over the last three decades.

Scientific Innovations

Tennessee researchers are making scientific breakthroughs and developing cutting-edge technologies in joint projects with Israeli scientists thanks to support from the Binational Science Foundation (BSF). BSF was established in 1972 to promote scientific relations and cooperation between scientists from the United States and Israel. The fund supports collaborative research projects in a wide area of basic and applied scientific field for peaceful and non-profit purposes. Since its inception, BSF has awarded some $480 million through more than 4,000 grants in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

BSF-sponsored studies are highly successful in achieving their two main goals: strengthening the US-Israel partnership through science and promoting world-class scientific research for the benefit of the two countries and all mankind. The BSF grants help extend research resources to achieve milestones that might not otherwise be attainable; introduce novel approaches and techniques to lead American researchers in new directions; confirm, clarify and intensify research projects; and provide unmatched access to Israeli equipment, facilities and research results that help speed American scientific advances. BSF has documented no less than 75 new discoveries made possible by its research grants and counts 37 Nobel Prize and 19 Lasker Medical Award laureates among its joint partners.

The University of Tennessee, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine have shared nearly $1.4 million in BSF grants since 1996.

Dr. James N. Ihle is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. He has been collaborating with Yakov Weinstein at Ben Gurion University to study aspects of growth factors and functions that affect blood cells. Ihle both hopes and expects that their research will have an impact in the control of blood cell production and that they will find new ways to treat leukemia and other blood cell disorders. “I have had a very productive collaboration and it has always been very positive,” said Dr. Ihle. “The BSF program is fantastic because otherwise Israel would have very little money to do research with. Israel is a relatively small country with very talented people that could do more research if they had more money. BSF has made a significant impact.”

Professor David Greenstein, assistant professor of cell biology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has collaborated with Millet Treitin of Hebrew University’s Hadassah Medical School to study neurodegeneration using nematode worms. They use these worms to discover molecules that are the cause of neurodegeneration and by using modern techniques they will hopefully find the molecular basis for this problem. By doing so, Greenstein and Treitin will further understand neurodegeneration in humans and it may then be possible to create a drug that can prevent ailments such as Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The University of Tennessee's Albrecht Von Arnim is currently studying how plants respond to a light environment. He and his colleague at the University of Tel Aviv are interested in how various organisms process and respond to light on a cellular and molecular level. This sort of information varies with plants, yeast, humans and bacteria. This basic research will hopefully lead to the generation of plants that carry traits of commercial importance and that will only show up at certain times of need. As of now, Von Arnim does not have enough information to do this, but is hoping that his collaboration with Israel with help.

Dr. George Kablalka is in search of a potential new drug for cancer therapy. Together with Dr. Peter Bendel of the Weizmann Institute, Kabalka, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Tennessee, builds a few molecules and then tests their basic properties. This project took ten years to create and although the BSF grant has expired, Kabalka and Bendel are still collaborating.

Some BSF projects have practical applications; however other projects involve basic science and are meant only to stimulate advances in a particular field. For example, Professor Jeff Becker of the University of Tennessee along with Professor Levitzky and Professor Kulka of the Hebrew University have had a very positive experience collaborating together to study the molecular biology of cell membranes.

Agriculture Benefits

In 1978 the United States and Israel jointly created the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD) to help fund programs between US and Israeli scientists for mutually beneficial, mission-oriented, strategic and applied research into agricultural problems. Since its inception, BARD has funded more than 1,000 projects in 45 states and the District of Columbia with a total investment of more than $250 million. In 2000, an independent and external economic review of 10 BARD projects conservatively projected more than $700 million in revenue by the end of 2010, a number which far outweighs the total investment in all BARD projects over its 33 year existence and helps to continually strengthen the foundation.

Most BARD projects focus on either increasing agricultural productivity, plant and animal health or food quality and safety and have been influential in creating new technologies in drip irrigation, pesticides, fish farming, livestock, poultry, disease control and farm equipment. BARD funds projects in 45 states and the District of Columbia and at present is beginning to administer collaborative efforts between Australia, Canada and Israel as well. It is difficult to break down the impact on a state-by-state basis, but overall, BARD-sponsored research has generated sales of more than $500 million, tax revenues of more than $100 million and created more than 5,000 American jobs.

The University of Tennessee received the first BARD grant in 2002 and since then other institutions have benefitted as well to the tune of more than $600,000.

In 2009, Professor Terrence Dermody of Vanderbilt University received a BARD grant to collaborate with Dr. Marcelo Ehrlich of Tel Aviv University in order to develop a plasmid-based reverse genetics system for the Bluetongue and Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease viruses, diseases that cause great harm to livestock such as sheep and cattle and is known to exist throughout the two American continents, Africa, the South Pacific and the Middle East. While the research is only recently underway, the two professors have taken advantage of BARD resources to connect in person regularly. Professor Dermody attests to BARD's helpfulness in making the collaboration fluidly and easily and is excited about the possibility to receiving future BARD grants for research that he may pursue.

While on one hand pesticides are crucial to much modern agriculture, they have also become a contamination problem of rural water resources. American manufacturers produce more than 1.5 billion pounds of pesticide a year and spend nearly $1 billion just to comply with EPA regulations controlling waste discharge. This created a dilemma that BARD grantees tackled. BARD researchers developed a new economical procedure for diminishing water-born pesticides using the sun. In the laboratory, scientists tested 69 dye sensitizers that can oxidize pesticides when activated by visible light. After testing the pesticide breakdown products they found that these treatments were harmless and permitted normal germination and seed growth. After these lab tests, a prototype was created in Livinsgston, Tennessee. In August 1986, the BARD Solar Wastewater Disinfection Plant opened two 20,000 liter reactors to process multiple sewage. Simultaneously, Israel opened a different prototype design in Herzilia. The goal of removing injected pesticides by sunlight was successful. The BARD solar process also destroyed 99.9 percent of most bacterial pathogens in the sewage within two hours.

Tennessee, one of the country's largest producers of cotton (total U.S. production exceeds $5 billion a year) also benefits from BARD research done outside of the state. Joint research resulting from a BARD grant has shaped the way cotton is grown today. BARD grantees from Israel and Mississippi developed and tested a computer model that would reduce the amount of water and fertilizer cotton farmers need to produce their crops. Their research resulted in an invention called COTMOD, which describes how water, soil, fertilizer and farming practices affect cotton production. The model can also be expanded to predict the fate of pesticides and environmental contaminations as well. The USDA combined this model with two others and provide it, free of charge, to American farmers and agricultural consultants. By advising growers, such as those in Tennessee, on optimal irrigation and fertilization strategies, the system can save farmers an average of about $60 per acre, or about $48 per bale.

Other Cooperative Programs

In June 2018, law enforcement professionals traveled to Israel to study the counterterrorism techniques and emergency management methods of their Israeli counterparts as part of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program. This federally funded program run by Georgia State University has been providing law enforcement officers with global perspectives and unique training since 1992. Law enforcement officers from Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee participated in the 2018 GILEE program.  

Since 1993, law enforcement professionals have traveled to Israel to study the counterterrorism techniques and emergency management methods of their Israeli counterparts as part of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program. This privately funded program run by Georgia State University has been providing law enforcement officers with global perspectives and unique training since 1992. Law enforcement officers from Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee participated in the 2019 program.

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State Contacts:

Hillel Campus Profiles

Jewish Federation Of Greater Chattanooga
5326 Lynnland Terrace, P.O. Box 8947
Chattanooga, TN 37414
Tel. 423-894-1317

Jewish Federation Of Memphis
6560 Poplar Ave.
Memphis, TN 38138-3614
Tel. 901-767-7100

Jewish Federation Of Nashville
801 Percy Warner Blvd.
Nashville, TN 37205
Tel. 615-356-3242

Knoxville Jewish Community
P.O. Box 10882
Knoxville, TN 37939
Tel. 423-693-5837

Bill Baxter
Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development
Rachel Jackson Bldg., 326 Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37243-0405
Tel. 800-251-8594