The phytohormone 7-iso-(+)-jasmonoyl-L-isoleucine (JA-Ile) mediates plant defense responses against herbivore and pathogen attack, and thus increases plant resistance against foreign invaders. However, JA-Ile also causes growth inhibition; and therefore JA-Ile is not a practical chemical regulator of plant defense responses. Here, we describe the rational design and synthesis of a small molecule agonist that can upregulate defense-related gene expression and promote pathogen resistance at concentrations that do not cause growth inhibition in Arabidopsis. By stabilizing interactions between COI1 and JAZ9 and JAZ10 but no other JAZ isoforms, the agonist leads to formation of JA-Ile co-receptors that selectively activate the JAZ9-EIN3/EIL1-ORA59 signaling pathway. The design of a JA-Ile agonist with high selectivity for specific protein subtypes may help promote the development of chemical regulators that do not cause a tradeoff between growth and defense.