Tel Aviv Museum of Art
New wing of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Photo by Hadar Cohen
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Culture Minister Limor Livnat announced Wednesday that she had ordered the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to install signs in Arabic by the end of February, after a Haaretz probe last week revealed that half of the Israeli museums required to provide visitors with Arabic explanations fail to do so despite government regulations on the matter.

Livni claims that the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is the only one of the seven museums mandated to provide Arabic captions that does not do so, and as such, has now been instructed to comply with orders.

The Haaretz probe, however found the number of non-complying museums to be much higher. According to Education Ministry guidelines set in 2005, 10 of 49 museums receiving state funds are mandated to provide Arabic explanations – and only half comply.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which receives NIS 3 million in state funds and over 500,000 visitors annually, provides Arabic only in the museum catalogues and absent in all of its exhibitions. Its non-compliance comes despite vowing to be in the process of incorporating Arabic captions, after the museum was rebuffed by Foreign Ministry officials three months ago.

Another prominent example of a non-complying museum is Tel Aviv's Eretz Israel Museum, to which the state allocates NIS 2 million a year, and which presents information pages and captions in Arabic in only 2 of its 15 permanent and special expositions.

Museum director Ilan Cohen explained that the museum published a professional tri-lingual catalogue, ensuring that the Museum will incorporate Arabic captions and information in future exhibitions.

"I would like to, but it's a question of the budget we have at our disposal. We indeed intend to add Arabic captions to new exhibitions, but not to all, it very much depends on the context of that exhibition," Cohen said.

It should be noted that Arabic captions were found in the museum's open-air exhibitions as well as in its planetarium.

Fault was also found in Haifa's numerous state-funded museums, which receive a combined annual grant of NIS 1.5 million.

Haifa's National Maritime Museum incorporates Arabic only in the museums' general information, with a similar situation in the Haifa Museum of Art.

The latter's art department told Haaretz that the museum had captions in Arabic for all exhibitions but that those were never printed, adding that there was no point in doing so two weeks before the current exhibition closes.

None of the three exhibitions currently presented in Haifa's Tikotin Museum for Japanese Art included Arabic captions.

Director General of Haifa museums Nissim Tal said that all of the museums' stores carry catalogues in Hebrew, Arabic, and English and that it can also be found in some of the exhibitions.

Tal claimed that the museums were never asked to display captions in Arabic, saying: "We don't have [Arabic] captions because we're not supposed to."

"The whole process wasn't clear. We receive our guidelines from the Ministry of Education and we were never told that we didn't meet ministry requirements," Tal added.

The Education Ministry said in response that the department of museums was orchestrating annual checkups in order to verify reports, adding that the museums mentioned in the Haaretz report do indeed meet requirements despite only partially providing Arabic captions.

However, "the ministry instructed the required museums to complete the translation of all information leaflets in the exhibitions that currently do not do so. As we have been told, this process will be completed in the next few weeks."

When asked why only 10 of the 49 state-funded museums are required to provide Arabic captions, ministry officials said that the criteria was worded and set by the Justice Ministry, since the process entailed costs that could only be met by national museums."