Olim decry Hebrew-only ministry websites [pg. 5]

Immigrant advocates are frustrated that the Interior Ministry is one of only three ministries not to have an English-language Web site, since its services are among the most needed by newcomers. Neil Gillman, aliya counselor for the United Jewish-Israel Appeal, which helps British Commonwealth immigrants, described the Interior Ministry Web site as "tremendously user-friendly" - for Hebrew speakers. But he said that for most new immigrants or tourists who need to renew their visas, "It's completely useless, because you can't navigate around it by yourself." "Olim are frustrated when they cannot get information they need," noted Josie Arbel, the director of absorption services for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. She added that they often run into difficulties with the Interior Ministry. "In general the Interior Ministry is one of the least customer-friendly government ministries. Where many of them have since revamped their services to the public, we have not seen changes in the Interior Ministry and we hear distressing stories," she said. The Interior Ministry is scheduled to add English pages to its Web site in the coming months, according to ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad. She said the ministry had already been improving its Hebrew-language site and that the pages were currently being translated into other languages. The Social Affairs and Transportation Ministries also do not have English-language sites. "We have plans to do something in English and also in Arabic, because Arabic is the official other language" of Israel, Hadad said. The Interior Ministry is also preparing another new feature for immigrants: a citizenship test. The test would only be administered to non-Jews seeking citizenship according to the Law of Entry rather than the Law of Return. "Now it's possible that someone can become a citizen without knowing anything about the country," said Population Registry Chief Sasi Katzir, who said that currently applicants for citizenship need only to speak a minimal amount of Hebrew, have met residency and security requirements, and take an oath of loyalty to the State of Israel. Katzir convened a committee this week to propose the type of questions to be featured in the exam, how the test would be administered and ideas for beefing up the ceremony held upon the granting of citizenship. The test will be modelled on versions currently administered in countries such as the United States and Germany. He said the committee was expected to present its recommendations within the next three months.