The Israel Festival started in 1961 as a summer festival for classical music in the ancient Roman theater in Caesarea. Throughout the years the festival grew in the number of art disciplines and activity centers with recent festivals including classical music, ballet, jazz, theater, visual arts and lectures, combining high quality programs from Israel and abroad. From 1982 onwards the Israel Festival was adopted by the City of Jerusalem and most shows are held within its boundaries.
While the festival's quality is widely recognized, there have been complaints about the high entrance fees to the performances. Nevertheless, some of the shows are offered free. Street performances and special performances for children are also part of the festival.
The first festivals were directed by Zvi Propes. Since 1992 Yossi Tal-Gan is the director of the festival. He is assisted by advisers for the fields of classical music, world music and ballet. Dan Halperin heads the public board. The festival operates as a non-profit organization.