No 'Salaam' at Yad Vashem

Holocaust museum criticized for lack of explanations in Arabic.

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 both 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 due to 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 has Arabic-speaking guides available, and an Arabic version of the recently developed audio guide (currently available in English, Hebrew and French) is under production. Yad Vashem officials also noted that unfortunately, only a very small percentage of Israel's 1.2 million Arab residents visit the Holocaust museum, which is one of the city's top tourist sites. The spokeswoman added that currently, about 20,000 people from Muslim countries visit the Yad Vashem site every year, even though the museum's Arabic-language site is still under construction. She added that the planned Arabic mini Web site would soon be available at, just as a Farsi-language site is already available on-line. Aiming to combat growing Holocaust denial, and especially in light of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for Israel's destruction, Yad Vashem announced last year plans to translate its Web site into both Farsi and Arabic. The new Farsi site has been especially popular, with nearly 40,000 people visiting that section alone since its inauguration in January 2007, 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.