The first meeting of the Academy's General Assembly, chaired by Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, elected Prof. Martin Buber as the Academy's first President. Prof. Aharon Katzir and Prof. Gershom Scholem, who were to become the Academy's second and third Presidents, worked with the government's Ministerial Committee on Legislation to draft a bill to provide the necessary legal framework for the Israel Academy's activities. Israel's parliament, the Knesset, approved the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities Law in June 1961
The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, established by law of the Knesset in 1961, comprises 95 of Israel's most distinguished scholars. It is divided into two sections, the Natural Sciences and the Humanities (including the social sciences), and is administered by a Council consisting of the Academy's President and Vice President, the Chairpersons for the Sciences and the Humanities, and the Executive Director. Two plenary session of the Academy are held annually, while the Sections meet 1-3 times a year. The home of the Academy is in Jerusalem, next to the official residence of Israel's President.
The Academy has undertaken major initiatives to strengthen basic research in Israel, including: founding and administering the Israel Science Foundation (www.isf.org.il),; taking part in the establishment of a new National Research Council (NRC, 2003) and an active Forum for National Research and Development Infrastructure (TELEM); helping initiate the projected 5-year, $300 million Israel Nanotechnology Program (INP); and facilitating the participation of Israeli scientists in cutting-edge research at international high-energy physics (CERN) and synchrotron radiation (ESRF) mega-facilities. The Israel Academy is a leading participant in defining Israel's science policy and in encouraging national activities in fields at the core of worldwide science and research which require a large-scale investment of human and financial resources, as well as national and international cooperation. Israel's participation in these issues is vital to preserving its position among the leading countries at the forefront of world research and technology.
There are two basic documents related to the Academy: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities Law 1961 (5721) and The Charter of the Israel Academy of Sciences And Humanities 5722/1962 (Amended 5736/1975; 5746/1986)
As of January 2011, The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities is comprised of 96 of Israel's most distinguished scientists. It is divided into two sections, the Natural Sciences (54 members) and the Humanities (including the Social Sciences) (42 members). In 2008 the maximum number of members (under age 75) in each Section was raised to forty. In the Humanities section there are currently 5 women out of 42 members (12.9% ) and in the Natural Sciences section there are 3 women out of 54 members (5.5%).
The Academy encourages the involvement of young Israeli scientists in science assessment and policy issues, through three new channels. Its Committee for New Horizons in Science brings together 8-10 outstanding young scientists and three senior Academy members to explore Israel's newest opportunities and most pressing limitations, including structural limitations in various fields. The members seek to encourage new ideas and ways of thinking in the Israeli context. The Academy's Young Scholars Forum in the Humanities and Social Sciences also investigates the state of Israeli scholarship and the tools at its disposal, along with such overarching issues as scholarly methodology and the organization of research. On the international front, the Israel Academy, in conjunction with the US NAS, cosponsors a regional Frontiers of Science meeting for outstanding young scientists throughout the Middle East.
The members of the Publications Committee represent several fields in the Humanities and the Natural Sciences. The mandate of the Israel Academy includes the publication of writings calculated to promote scholarship and science. Titles are selected on the basis of academic merit by an interdisciplinary Publications Committee composed of Academy members. In the Humanities, the Academy publishes monographs, multi-authored volumes and lectures of lasting worth in history, religion, philosophy, literature, linguistics, art and other areas. Many publications are critical editions of manuscripts and other basic source texts in Judaica and related fields. In the natural sciences, the Academy publishes authoritative compilations on the fauna, flora and geology of the region and surveys of environmental issues. The Academy's role of advising the government on matters relating to research and scientific planning comes to expression in a series of publications on science policy. Many of the lectures delivered at events held by the Academy are published in the Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Over 170 books and many shorter works have been published often in conjunction with other academic presses in Israel and abroad. Another 30 works are in progress or in press. About half of the Academy's publications are in Hebrew.
The Academy Charter, as revised in 2008, stipulates three meetings annually. In December an open meeting is convened at which time new members present inaugural lectures to the Academy and to others present. In the spring there are two closed meetings; a business meeting to approve the financial reports and proposed budget and a meeting for the election of new members. These may be convened consecutively on the same day. The Academy grants four awards: the Teva Founders Prize, the Adams Fellowships, the Foulkes Foundation Award and the Gershom Scholem Prize.
A major role of the Israel Academy is to promote and coordinate scholarly contacts between Israel and the international community, partly on the basis of bi-lateral agreements for scientific cooperation, and partly by representing Israel in international scientific organizations.
The Academy fosters ties with national academies and the world scientific research community. It is the signatory to over thirty international agreements providing for reciprocal visits by Israeli and foreign scholars and joint scientific workshops
In April, 1990, the Academy opened an official scientific legation in Beijing, China. Its activities were later subsumed by the Embassy of Israel in China subsequent to the establishment of diplomatic relations. In 1983, as part of the Cultural Agreement with Egypt, the Academy founded the Israel Academic Center in Cairo with a resident Israeli Director. In May 2008 the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Center was celebrated with a colloquium at the Academy. The establishment of these academic centers is among the major multi- and bi-national initiatives in which the Academy has played a leading role. It is a founding member of Association of Middle East and U.S. National Academies of Sciences (Israel, Jordan, Palestinian Authority and US) and has encouraged the establishment of the SESAME regional synchrotron radiation facility in Jordan.
The Academy is Israel's envoy to the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) and selects the Israeli representatives to the ICSU scientific unions. It is a founding member of ALLEA (All European Academies), the Association of Asian Science Academies, the Global Network of Academies of Sciences (IAP), Union Académique Internationale and other unions of Academies.
The Academy has observer status at the European Science Foundation. Its representatives participate in meetings of the five ESF standing committees and in a selection of activities such as Networks and EuroCoRes. Israel, at the initiative of the Academy, is a participant in the European Social Survey.