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Yad Vashem has come under criticism for not including any Arabic explanations in its new Holocaust museum, even though Arabic is one of the official state languages.
The multi-million dollar museum, which opened with much fanfare two years ago, includes explanations and signs in Hebrew and English.
The dearth of Arabic-language explanations at the museum has been criticized by some visitors.
"Given the current tensions and violence between Jews and Muslims, surely any hope for change has to involve mutual understanding and Yad Vashem - one of the most important museums in the world - is basic to that," said Howard Epstein, a state legislator from Halifax, Canada, who recently visited Yad Vashem.
"I was amazed to realize that the labeling was not in Arabic to go along with the Hebrew and English," he added. Yad Vashem said that there were no Arabic signs in the museum for "technical" reasons of lack of space. "Due to technical reasons of limited space in an exhibition, there are only two languages in the Holocaust History Museum - English and Hebrew, just as has always been the case at Yad Vashem," a Yad Vashem spokeswoman said. She noted that Yad Vashem had Arabic speaking guides available for those who requested them, and there was an Arabic version of the recently developed audio guide, (currently available in English, Hebrew and French) under production.
The spokeswoman added that a special Arabic mini web-site would soon be available at Yad Vashem's web site at www.yadvashem.org, just as there was a Farsi site already available on-line. At the same time, Yad Vashem officials also noted that unfortunately only a very small percentage of Israel's 1.2 million Arab residents visited the Holocaust museum, which is one of the city's top tourist sites.
The issue comes at a time of increasing Holocaust denial around the world. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called for the destruction of the State of Israel, has dismissed the Holocaust as a "myth."
Aimed at combating growing Holocaust denial, Yad Vashem announced last year that it would be translating its web site into both Arabic and Farsi.
About 20,000 people from Muslim countries, including Iran, visit the Yad Vashem website every year, a Yad Vashem spokeswoman said. The newly inaugurated Farsi site has been especially popular with nearly 40,000 people visiting that site alone since its inauguration in January, about half of whom are from Iran, she said. "There is a great interest -some might say 'fascination' - with the Holocaust in Arab society and Yad Vashem has a special role to play in making sure that Arabs eager enough to learn about the Holocaust have access to the appropriate information," said Dr. Robert Satloff, executive director of The Washington Institute, who has researched Arab heroes and villains of the Holocaust for his recent book 'Among the Righteous: Lost Stories of the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands.'
The state-of-the-art $56 million complex, which aims to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive in the 21st century - even as the number of aging survivors continues to wane - is a 4,200-square- meter prism-like structure that slices through the Jerusalem hilltop known as the Mount of Remembrance. Visitors who enter the museum are forced by its design to zigzag through a series of historical galleries in strict order, with each depicting another stage in the destruction of European Jewry. At a time of increasing Holocaust interest, and the construction of Holocaust museums in major cities, the new museum presents the history of the murder of 6 million Jews by focusing on the personal stories of victims, using original artifacts, survivors' testimonies and personal possessions.