Israeli Government Websites Failing to Provide Arabic Translations

Thirty percent of government ministry websites have no information in Arabic at all, in violation of cabinet decision passed over a decade ago.

A screenshot of the Defense Ministry website.

More than half of Israel’s official government websites are either not translated into Arabic or don’t post tenders or other announcements in Arabic, despite a cabinet decision over a decade ago to translate all such websites.

Thirty percent of government ministry websites have no information in Arabic at all, while 25 percent do not post tenders, calls for proposals, available jobs or other announcements in Arabic, according to a new study by the Knesset Research and Information Center. Some 20 percent don’t offer a “Contact us” option in Arabic, which is one of Israel’s two official languages.

Seven ministries – immigrant absorption; defense; religious services; social affairs; Negev and Galilee development; communications; and tourism – have no information in Arabic at all, nor does the website of the Civil Service Commission.

The study was conducted last month at the behest of the Knesset’s transparency committee, headed by MK Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union), and examined the websites of 24 ministries and seven other agencies – the main government portal, the Knesset, the State Comptroller’s Office, the Civil Service Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission for the Disabled (a Justice Ministry agency), the Israel Police and the National Insurance Institute.

The issue will be discussed today at a joint hearing of the transparency committee and the Knesset Science and Technology Committee, headed by MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism).

The study checked a number of parameters on every website, including whether there is an Arabic “button” at the top of the page; whether one can see the entire homepage and general information about the relevant ministry in Arabic; if complaints can be submitted online in Arabic or whether there was information in Arabic on how to submit a complaint; if one could make payments, submit forms or submit registrations in Arabic, and more.

Eleven ministry websites – including the finance, economy, interior and education ministry websites, and that of the Israel Police – had no Arabic-language forms or an Arabic link to forms, so citizens whose sole language is Arabic cannot access and fill out forms online. Ten ministry websites don’t make any services available in Arabic.

The accessibility of online information and services in Arabic was checked by the State Comptroller’s Office back in 2002. It found that most government websites offered no information or services in Arabic at all. As a result, the cabinet resolved that starting with fiscal year 2004, all government websites would offer information in both Hebrew and Arabic, as well as other languages as needed. However, no law was ever passed requiring this. Two bills submitted in recent years – by MK Dov Khenin (now Joint Arab List) and former MK Ruhama Avraham Balila (Kadima) – to codify this obligation never advanced.

“This constitutes blatant discrimination in the accessibility of services, as well as a lack of thought and advanced planning,” said Shaffir. “Integrating the Arab population should be the highest priority. And what’s needed for this to happen, first and foremost, is access to information and services.”