New findings by the Israel Internet Association indicate that only 10 percent of the services and information pages on government websites in Israel are also accessible in Arabic. The nonprofit group, which published its data on Sunday, examined the situation in advance of a conference for directors of government ministries and public authorities, in cooperation with Facebook Israel.
According to the findings, on the following ministries’ sites the percentage of Arabic-language content is especially low: Energy – 1 percent; Culture and Sports – 1 percent; Economy and Industry – 2 percent; Foreign Ministry – 2 percent; Settlement Affairs – 2 percent; Finance – 3 percent; Science and Technology – 4 percent; Social Equality – 4 percent; Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services – 6 percent; Transportation and Road Safety – 6 percent; Tourism – 8 percent; Intelligence Affairs – 9 percent.
The following are ministries and official bodies with 10 percent and more Arabic content: Justice – 10 percent; Construction and Housing – 10 percent; Prime Minister’s Office – 13 percent; Community Empowerment and Advancement (apparently being abolished) – 13 percent; Health – 13 percent; Interior – 15 percent; Communications – 19 percent; Public Security – 21 percent; Population and Immigration Authority – 23 percent; Agriculture and Rural Development – 28 percent.
The ministry with the highest amount of Arabic content is the Environmental Protection Ministry, with 59 percent of its online information available in that language.
These findings are particularly blatant in light of the government decision to accelerate the transition to online services during the period of the coronavirus: The more civil and other communal bodies use the internet, the greater the importance of making their services easily accessible to the entire Israeli public.
After publication of these figures, Yoram Hacohen, CEO of the internet association, said that “government bodies must make information accessible on the internet in the language spoken by 20 percent of its population and in a manner adapted to it, at a level that is similar to the accessibility of Hebrew content to the general public.”
The issue of the gaps between Hebrew- and Arabic-language information on government websites was also examined in a 2013 report by the Abraham Fund Initiatives, a nonprofit that works to create a shared society of Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel – but since then there doesn’t seem to have been any significant improvement.
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At the time, the fund warned that “often the absence of access to information in Arabic makes it difficult for citizens to receive services, but this is not solely an instrumental issue: The presence of Arabic in the public domain, including online, is very important for encouraging the sense of belonging among the Arab minority in Israel.”
According to attorney Amal Oraby Hussein of Sikkuy – The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel: “Technological literacy in Arab society is poor in any case, and it has been particularly noticeable among students engaging in remote learning in the COVID-19 crisis. The absence of Arabic only increases the difficulty of using such methods.”
Adds Loria Dally, coordinator of Sikkuy’s activities in the realms of health and culture: “Due to long-standing discrimination, Arab society is significantly weaker than Jewish society, with a lower proportion exercising their rights than other citizens. Therefore the need to make government services accessible to them is even greater. The use of government services is not a privilege reserved for only one population group. It is a basic obligation of the government ministries to provide it.”
The data published in the new report by the internet association, says Dr. Ala Haidar, an attorney and lecturer of law, is related to passage of the Basic Law on Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People in 2008. The controversial legislation determines, among other things, that Hebrew is the country’s official language, whereas Arabic has “special status.”
“In my opinion,” Haidar tells Haaretz 21, “these findings reinforce the content of the minority opinion of Supreme Court Justice George Kara, who wrote that the status of Arabic in Israel is weak in any case, and the nation-state law harms it even further by failing to accord it a status identical to that of Hebrew.”
“For example,” Sikkuy’s Oraby notes, “we can look at the use of Hatahana (The Station), the app launched by the Transport Ministry, which is not designed for the Arab community at all. Arab passengers on public transport are harmed by that, some are unable to plan their travel routes properly, they wait for a bus for a long time, and that undermines the quality of the service they receive.”
Says Haidar: “The absence of government-related content in the Arabic language undermines the right of Arab citizens to equality, in the sense of having an opportunity to benefit equally from all services.”
Sheren Falah Saab and Yanal Jbareen are participating in the Haaretz 21 initiative to promote voices and stories from Arab society in Israel.