TThe Institute’s Prof. Ruth Arnon was elected President of the Israel Academy of Sciences and the Humanities (IASH) last week – the first woman ever elected to the post. We spoke with her briefly:
You have held a number of leadership positions over the years. How is this one different?
My previous posts were mostly appointments; the president of the IASH is chosen by the entire body (of 100 elected members; 55 in the natural sciences and 45 in the humanities). I’ve served as vice president for the last six years. My name was brought forward by the search committee, but their recommendation does not mean the election results are a foregone conclusion. I am therefore pleased to have been elected.
President of the Israel Academy of Sciences and the Humanities is a fairly demanding job, is it not?
Yes, it’s an honor, but one the recipient has to work for. I expect to spend several days a week in Jerusalem. One of the main functions of the IASH is to advise the government on various issues pertaining to science and the humanities, and this entails building ties to decision makers, as well as reviewing our mechanisms for dealing with certain subjects and making recommendations. In addition, the IASH president also chairs the Council of the Israel Science Foundation, which is the major funding source for science in Israel. During my term as vice president, I dealt with the committee on biomedical research in Israel, which published a detailed report, and as president I mean to look for ways to carry out the committee’s recommendations. The Bioethics Advisory Committee is also under our aegis, and I feel that it is important maintain our support in this area.
After the election, you said that one of your goals will be to strengthen ties with IASH counterparts in other countries. Will the threat of academic boycotts or international politics make this difficult?
I sincerely doubt it. We already have very strong ties with organizations in many countries. It’s really a question of looking at where those ties could be improved. In fact, it has been my experience that members of national academies leave their political views at home, and know their Israeli colleagues will do the same. Most of them have nothing but respect for Israeli research. For example, just this year, 18 presidents of national science and humanities academies around the world came to Israel for a conference held in the framework of the 50th anniversary of the IASH.
You are the first woman president of the IASH. Is there a message here?
I had always hoped to be appreciated on the strength of my research, alone. But it is clear there has been a change in the country concerning the acceptance of women in top positions the past few years: The president of Ben-Gurion University is a woman, as is the president of the Open University. It’s about time. I’m looking forward to the day when that question becomes a non-issue.
Last time we spoke, you were talking about your plans for retirement. How do your new responsibilities fit in with those plans?
It’s true I’m officially retired. But I still have my lab at here the Weizmann Institute and I’m involved in two companies, besides. In other words, my life hasn’t changed very much. I’m hoping my new job will fit in smoothly with my other activities.
Prof. Ruth Arnon is a member of the Weizmann Institute’s Immunology Department. Her first research at the Institute, in the 1960s, led to the development of Copaxone® or the treatment of multiple sclerosis; her most recent could result in a universal, multi-year flu vaccine. She’s also a seasoned administrator, having served in various capacities from dean of biology and vice president of the Institute to president of the European Federation of Immunological Societies.