City Web sites slowly get on English bandwagon with info but not services
It's been over 100 years since the founding of the first Hebrew city, and now Tel Aviv has made some much-needed changes to its English-language Web site, a move many other cities have yet to undertake.
Tel Aviv's new site features a plethora of relevant - yet static - information in English about business, education and culture in the city.
Before the recent update, the English section of Tel Aviv's Web presence offered little more than a short letter from the mayor, a contact form, a link to the local hotel association and a few short articles about renewal projects in Jaffa.
The site, www.tel-aviv.gov.il, still does not offer English-speaking users any municipal services such as downloading forms or online bill payment, which are available only in the Hebrew-language section.
"The majority of Tel Aviv's residents are Hebrew speakers, and most English-speaking immigrants living here get along fine in Hebrew," said Betty Yosef, an assistant to the municipality's spokesman. While further updates to the site are planned sometime in the future, she added, the inclusion of municipal services in English is unlikely.
"Things like property tax bills [arnona] are always in Hebrew anyways, and when new Anglo immigrants have a problem they can call our hotline and speak to someone in English," she said.
She pointed out, however, that the city runs two separate sites with updated English sections: one dedicated to its centennial, www.tlv100.co.il, and one targeting tourists, www.visit-tlv.com, which lists places to have fun but lacks an updated events calendar.
Tel Aviv is not the only city whose Web site's English section underwent a recent facelift, though many updated versions are still lacking. An informal Anglo File survey of Israeli municipalities' Web sites showed that several cities with significant English-speaking populations didn't have any information in English, while those with an English Web presence mainly target tourists and often ignore residents.
Until very recently, Haifa's English Web site featured little more than one article on municipal folk dance groups and one about a cartoon exhibition, as well as a link to the English-language site of the Haifa Tourist Board.
The port city, however, has since created an English language site dedicated to attracting Anglo immigrants (www1.haifa.muni.il/aliya). The site is rich in information for potential residents, offering information ranging from housing prices and schooling to health services and locations of all the local malls.
Mayor Yona Yahav seems willing to rely chiefly on privately run sites, such as haifa-israel.info, which also caters to Francophone residents, and the recently created anglo-list.com, which he pledged in a statement "will assist all the English-speaking communities in Haifa with their integration."
The municipality site's recent update (http://www.haifa.muni.il) includes a link to the city's site for tourists (www.tour-haifa.co.il) and some poorly formatted statistical information - some of it from 1995 - but still lacks any municipal services.
Cities like Beit Shemesh, Be'er Sheva and Herzliya, which all have sizable Anglo populations, haven't bothered with English at all - at least, not yet.
A spokesman for Be'er Sheva (www.beer-sheva.muni.il), a town with some 4,000 Anglos and many international students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told Anglo File the launch of an English section has been discussed for a while and was included in the city's 2010 budget.
"We're not talking about translating everything that's on the site, though," the spokesman said. "What we'll do is translate some of the static information, such as articles about the history of the city, information about education and tourism, and so on."
The online payment of bills, for example, will most likely remain available in Hebrew only, he added.
Jerusalem got the best grades. While the capital's homepage (www.jerusalem.muni.il) is also mainly geared toward visitors - focusing on history, special events, the location of foreign missions and tips on what to wear and where to go - many municipal services are also available in English.
Anglo surfers can pay their bills online, read traffic updates and find press releases from the spokesman's office.
Yet even the bilingual form to pay bills over the Web has issues: When one clicks on the button saying "What is a secure payment," the explanation appears only in Hebrew.
Ra'anana's Web site also made a good impression. While municipal services such as online bill payments are currently only available in Hebrew, the city's English site (www.raanana.muni.il) features an up-to-date events calendar and handy lists of important addresses for Anglos - for example a list of 47 public bomb shelters - as well as a list of all municipal divisions and departments. Conveniently packed into a single, Word document that can be downloaded, the site offers a comprehensive list of "names and contact numbers of all the organizations that could prove useful in your first months in Ra'anana as a new immigrant."
Beit Shemesh - where every fifth resident is a native English speaker, according to Anglo immigration advocacy group Nefesh B'Nefesh - is currently working on a "serious relaunch" of its Web site (www.betshemesh.muni.il), which will also include an English section.
"There are several proposals on the table right now, and within the next months we will be able to present the new site," a spokesman said. While it was not yet clear exactly what municipal services will be available in English, he added that paying bills online is likely to be included.
"Other municipalities might say that the residents have to orient themselves with Hebrew, but for us, with such a high percentage of English-speaking immigrants, it obvious that we'll try to include all these services."
Modi'in, which is also home to a large English-speaking population, has only a PDF file of a 16-page brochure in English on its Web site.
"There's definitively a need for information in English in this town," said New York-born Deputy Mayor Alex Weinreb. Modi'in (www.modiin.muni.il), like other cities with a high concentration of Anglos, has privately run English-language e-mail groups, Web sites and newspapers, yet the municipality would be well advised to translate the official site as well, he added.
"I send out a newsletter in Hebrew and people keep complaining that they can't read Hebrew," he said.