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ISRAňL

Address delivered during FORUM III

by Professor Mordechai Bishari
Director-General, Ministry of Science

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I would like to take this opportunity to express the support and commitment of the State of Israel to the principles set forth in the draft Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge.

In the State of Israel, highest priority is assigned to higher education and research. Most veterans of Israel's research universities were founded in the first decades of this century, long before the founding of the State. Today, over 20% of each age cohort earn an academic degree, while Israel spends 2.6% of her GDP on civilian R&D, one of the highest figures in the world. The academic research sector is well developed, with universities conducting some 30% of all civilian research. Academic freedom is zealously maintained and the institutions of education enjoy full autonomy in the management of their internal affairs, including management of their budget, the great bulk of which is provided by Government.

High-tech industry is also well developed in Israel and in recent decades has become the major source of growth in exports and in economic activity overall. Over 50% of civilian R&D is carried out in the industrial sector.

The Ministry of Science gives special attention in its science awareness programs to disadvantaged socio-economic groups. In order to promote equality of opportunity, special programs have been developed for elements of the population whose participation in high-tech-based economic activity is today quite limited. Expanding the proportion of the population involved in technologically advanced activities is not only a social goal. It is also expected to strengthen national scientific capability by bringing a fuller exploitation of the potential of the nation's manpower resources. The new ‘Science Blossoms’ Program of the Ministry, aimed at strengthening the scientific interest and capabilities of youth from disadvantaged urban neighborhoods and rural areas, is one of the central policy measures in this field.

In order to overcome obstacles to scientific development which are a result of Israel's small size, Israel has adopted two major principles in its science policy:

  • first, technological innovation in Israel is centered upon a number of leading fields: information and communications technology, electronics, chemistry and biotechnology.
  • second, the Government of Israel believes that Israel's strong R&D capabilities enable her to benefit through increasing involvement in international R&D networks. Thus, the Ministry of Science carries out a vigorous policy of promoting the international scientific ties of Israeli researchers and research institutions through active membership as a member, associate member or observer in a wide range of international frameworks, such as: European Union Framework Program, CERN, ESRF, EMBO/L, UNESCO, IPGRI, OECD.

The Government of Israel also implements over 20 bilateral science cooperation agreements. A number of publicly funded, legally autonomous bilateral research funds operate extensive Israeli–German and Israeli–American research cooperation programs. Universities and research institutes maintain direct agreements with sister institutions abroad and individual scientists maintain extensive networks of international ties, based on their own initiatives ‘from below’.

The Government of Israel is fully aware of the important role which scientific cooperation can play in strengthening the Middle East peace process. Thus, the Ministry of Sciences has undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at promoting such cooperation and serves as an active partner in the initiatives of other agencies. The Ministry welcomes the involvement of international organizations and governments from outside the region in attempts to strengthen scientific ties between Israel and her Arab neighbors.

The limited water resources and their use are the focus of a number of important Arab–Israeli research partnerships currently underway, such as the Palestinian–Jordanian–Israeli– German project on sustainable aquifer use in the Jordan Rift Valley, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Biodiversity is also an important research field accorded priority in Israeli science policy which must assume a central place in Arab–Israeli research cooperation. The Middle East is one of the central foci of agricultural development in the history of mankind. The ‘mother of wheat’, from which all cultivated wheat varieties developed, originated in the Middle East and was rediscovered in Israel at the beginning of the century. Israel and the region are important biodiversity sources for many other significant plant species. The Ministry of Science provides important support for gene bank activities and cooperates with international organizations and the countries of the region in the preservation of genetic material and in research on biodiversity.

Last but not least, UNESCO will certainly play a major role in realizing the ideal ‘Global World village’, as described by the prophets Isaiah and Mica; ‘And He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths; ... And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against Nation, neither shall they learn war any more’.

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