Israel Culture

Leyden Communications (Israel) - a full service, worldwide business to business marketing, media, Internet and e-commerce consultancy organization, also provides Cross-Cultural Business Training Seminars and Workshops.

"Israel is very "civilized" within the framework of a struggling and pressurized Middle Eastern nation that strives very hard to be "Western."
Israelis have perceptions of time, space and values that are completely different from those of North Americans. Israelis see Americans as artificial and square, when they are actually just showing respect. Americans think Israelis are arrogant, rude and pushy, when in realilty they are being direct and honest. Israel is a very small country whose population is one big family. In a family people can be as direct and honest as they want. But now that family members are selling their goods and services outside the clan, Israelis are adapting."
- Joel Leyden - TIME Magazine

As a public service to develop more successful commercial relations between Israel and the Americas, European and Asian markets - Leyden provides - Doing Business with Israel - some critical cross-cultural business advice for those wishing to work with Israeli businesses and governmental organizations. Over ninety percent of the problems which arise in developing and maintaining commercial relations with Israelis, comes directly from differences in cultural perceptions - not rates, services or products!





No Culture is Good or Bad- Just Different!

Israelis, Americans, Europeans and Asians all view space, time and values from a different place. If we are all to expect the Israeli, or the Japanese or the French to act, to behave in the exact manner - then we will be greatly disappointed! Many businesspeople from the States come to Israel, expecting to do business, as if they were still in New York, California or Texas. The smiles and handshakes look the same, even the suits and ties, but after a few minutes have passed, both sides, which have have come together with great respect and mutual admiration - feel something is not right!

The Israeli, who is often perceived as being arrogant, aggressive and pushy, is actually being direct and honest. And the American, European and Asian, who are seen by the Israeli as being artificial, phoney and weak - are actually displaying politeness and respect. If both sides are to go into a commercial venture, without taking the time to understand each others cultural traits - they are heading for disaster!

Don't be fooled by the modern office furniture, mobile telephones, new shopping malls, the one million McDonald restaurant outlets and the 100 dollar ties. The Israeli is a different animal - and to be successful in business with him you must understand how they see you and where they come from.

Israeli society is what is referred to as a polychronic culture (relationship-oriented), in contrast to American, British or German culture which is monochronic (rule-oriented). In the relationship oriented Israeli culture feelings and emotions are primary, while intuition and objective facts are secondary! Israeli culture can be viewed as witnessing one large family. In a family, one can dismiss formality and act in a direct, immediate and honest fashion. What can be excused in a "family" as being direct - is often interpreted outside of the family or Israel's borders as being rude or impolite.



How we see and judge others are by their behaviors (the tip of the iceberg) which includes: punctuality, greetings, business etiquette, management styles, planning, verbal and written communication, negotiation styles and the all important non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication with the human animal accounts for over 70 percent of our total ability to understand one another! Our gestures, expressions, eye contact, use of silence and personal space. What lies below that white, icy iceberg tip which arises over the blue water, is a submerged mountain of attitudes and values. So without taking you through a full days cross-cultural seminar, for which we highly recommend and have witnessed great success and results from - we will now try to provide you with a few "key" tips in dealing with your Israeli partner. Again - please remember that these "tips" are by no means a substitute for spending valuable time for both yourself and your employees to enjoy a full day's cross-cultural training! And the information below is only a generalization of the typical Israeli. Many Israeli businesspeople have traveled and learned about other cultures and have been successful in working abroad. Although - they can still learn - as we can all still refresh and beware of our behavior.

Tel Aviv


  • Wear your suit if you feel comfortable in it. The Israeli will expect you to dress in the same manner from where you have come from. Dressing as an Israeli, informal dress with jeans or dress pants and an open, short sleeved dress shirt can be confusing for the Israeli who may feel and start to act as if you come from the same army unit! Dress down after your initial meeting. You are different - make that statement and be respected and understood for it. If your first meeting takes place on a hot, Israeli summer's day - wear the suit but leave the suit jacket in the hotel.
  • Israelis are a very close, touchy, feely society - as in a close family. The paradox is that they are not used to shaking hands, although this is changing. Don't be offended if the Israeli does not offer you his hand - but do offer yours - physical contact with that initial smile is very important.
  • Maintain direct eye contact. If the Israeli is standing a little too close - invading your private space - it's normal and accept it. Taking one step back may make you feel more comfortable but your communication will not be as well received!
  • Address the Israeli by their first name. They may very likely use the title Mr. or Ms. when addressing you. Kindly invite him to address you by your first name and watch the communication and relationship process become more intimate and honest.
  • The exchange of business cards is not an established ritual in Israel. Although it is becoming more and more common, forgive the Israeli if he or she is not prepared with their calling cards.
  • You can always expect a friendly and real invitation for sharing coffee as a meeting begins. If the Israeli is being hosted on your ground - always extend an invitation for coffee or a soft drink.
  • As warm and as friendly as the Israeli is, you can still find some very conservative areas. When walking down a street in London, Paris and New York, if you make eye contact with another person it is normal to smile and say "good morning." In Israel, if you are not a tourist asking for directions and you make verbal contact with a stranger, he or she will most likely give you an awkward look followed by "me ata" or asking in English "who are you"? Also many Israeli's will not feel comfortable discussing very personal or intimate subjects or problems with you - i.e.- their marriage, sex, divorce, medical problems and army service (prohibited by law).
  • When getting ready to enter a bus or any crowded area (i.e. - bank, post office, restaurant or open marketplace) don't expect the Israeli to form a line. This is where you are expected to use the gentle nudge of your elbow to enter. If you wait - you will be last! As a footnote, in the years I have lived in Israel I have witnessed the banks, post offices and major supermarkets slowly put into effect crowd management control with ropes, creating orderly lines.


  • The Israeli is ready for immediate action. You can witness this by how many Israelis sit - leaning forward with legs spread apart - ready to stand at a moments notice.
  • He or she may lean back in their chair, place their hands on the back of their heads - do not interrupt this as arrogance - this is informality - sit the same way (echoing) and watch how your relationship comes together!
  • The Israeli will ask you to wait by placing their hand up, palm towards their body with fingers coming together - and the hand may shake. By mistake, I did this to a policeman in New York City once - he thought I was giving him the "finger". It was difficult explaining to him that I was Israeli, speaking with my New York accent! :>


  • Israelis are a very passionate and expressive breed. As such, if they raise their voices, this is how many Israelis normally communicate with one another. The Israeli can yell and scream at a colleague one moment and a few minutes later be seen hugging the guy. If the Israeli speaks in a low tone and smiles for hours with you - it means he is not being real, honest and relaxed with you! Again, please remember - there our exceptions to this rule as for those Israelis who have lived outside of Israel.
  • Israelis are a curious people and not shy to ask how much your salary is, if you're married or other intimate questions. Respond in a general, kind and polite manner such as "not enough" or "comfortable". Israeli salaries are about fifty percent less than their counterparts in the States and Europe, taxes are very high and the cost of living is almost equal and sometimes higher than New York or London!
  • Another beautiful and psychologically healthy aspect of the direct, honest and sometimes loud Israeli - is that they are just letting off steam in a truly good manner. It may not appear polite, but the result is that Israeli's very rarely make violent contact with one another. Instead of swallowing all of the anxiety and letting it out in a harmful and negative neurotic or psychotic fashion, the Israeli is actually a healthier social animal than many of their global counterparts who repress their feelings and take such mood altering drugs such as Valium or Prozac!


  • Israelis want things today - Now! As they come from a young and traumatic society where war has been the norm - trying to get the most out of today is the expected rule. If you are talking in terms of months and years - you may lose your Israeli partner's interest. In this circumstance he may very well perceive you as not being serious. Try to meet him or her half way - try to speak realistically in terms of days and weeks.
  • Meetings in Israel can be and are often spontaneous. Again a reflection of the informal and family oriented culture. Embrace this openness and good things will happen!
  • Punctuality is relaxed. Always allow up to 15-20 minutes before thinking that your party is late. Even here, things are rapidly changing, especially in the hi-tech environment where many Israelis pride themselves on being on time. After work hours, you may notice a more relaxed tone. When setting work deadlines, be sure to leave some advanced buffer period.
  • The Israeli is not used to "doing lunch or breakfast". They see this time as being too valuable - instead suggest sandwiches and drinks to be brought into the meeting room. Dinner is very accepted. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss family, compliment Israeli culture, history, sports and continue with business discussions. Do not speak about Israel government, politics or religious issues. If they bring it up - be a good listener! Find out if your Israeli partner is religious or "observant" before going out for a meal - if he or she is - respect their values and find a "kosher" restaurant. Israelis are not big drinkers - inviting your counterpart for a beer is acceptable.
  • During a meeting the Israeli may take telephone calls and allow others into his office or the meeting room. Interruptions such as these are common in Israeli culture - do not take it as being rude, impolite or arrogant. This is a very informal society, where those in Israel are expected and able to do many tasks at the same time. North Americans, for example, are the complete opposite in their behavior - taking one chore at a time, finishing it and then moving onto the next task.


  • Israeli businessmen are good - in many cases superb! When it comes to negotiating tactics - they wrote the book! Be prepared for tough and friendly negotiations. There is little difference between the modern, air-conditioned wall to wall carpeted Israeli boardroom and the ancient and dusty marketplace in the old city of Jerusalem! If you are seeking to sell your apple for 100 dollars - start high and then look for a fair compromise in the middle. Israelis love to negotiate. Read up on negotiations and don't be offended by what may appear as a "ridiculous offer" in Israel.
  • Hiring a professional translator would prevent the Israeli from breaking into Hebrew and consulting with his associates - leaving you in the dark. Having a translator on site would be very powerful and positive, given that you will always be on the "same page" with your Israeli partners and the translator could also serve as a "cultural bridge" in regards to verbal and non-verbal communication.
  • Get things in writing! No matter how warm and friendly your relationship may become - a handshake is good - but never good enough. A Letter of Intent and or a contract will leave no room for misunderstandings down the road. Do not bring an attorney to your meetings, rather fax your attorney all papers and contracts for them to review.
  • The Israeli may request to conclude all negotiations immediately. This is not a sign of desperation or weakness - this is a basic difference in how the Israeli perceives time. Most Israelis are seen as being impatient - wanting everything done "today". The reason for this is their traumatic historical and military service experiences, they are not always secure as to where they will be tomorrow.
  • One of the best places to begin your negotiations in Israel may be with your taxi driver! ;> Make sure that when you get into the taxi and your destination is inside the city limits - that the meter is always turned on! For travel between cities, there are fixed rates for which the driver should have a book to show you the prices. Taxi drivers are not usually tipped in Israel - but you can make an exception. Waiters and waitresses are always tipped 10-15 percent unless "service" is included in the bill.


  • Israelis are a very warm and friendly people. When they invite you to their home or out for dinner - they are not just being polite - they are displaying sincere friendship. When they say "stop by at any time" - they truly mean it! Accept the invitation and create a good personal relationship. Remember, in Israel, relationships count just as much if not more than a solid commercial portfolio. Unlike many other cultures, substance, not style takes the lead in Israel. When coming to someone's home, good gifts to bring are flowers, chocolates or a good bottle of wine. When coming to someone's office good gifts to bring are a culture book from your home country, a pen set with your company's logo or a global desk clock. Framed pictures of yourself and your Israeli associates make an excellent gift and wall decoration - reminding the Israeli of the personal ties that you share!

Old City of Jerusalem


Shalom = Hello, Good-bye and Peace
Boker Tov = Good Morning
Bevakasha = Please
Tov = Good
Toda = Thank You
Ken = Yes
Low = No

Afo = Where
Ma = What
Rowzah = Want
Ochel = Food
Myeem = Water
Sheruteem = Bathroom, W.C.
Bait Melone = Hotel
Dahoof = Urgent

Holay = Sick
Bait Holeem = Hospital
Rofer = Doctor
Yom Tov = Good Day
Lila Tov = Good Night
Laheatraode = See You Soon

This page will be updated and expanded. Your comments are most welcomed. In the meantime - get your agreements in writing, speak slowly (and ask the Israeli to speak slowly) to understand one another, keep your words simple and confirm your understanding of what has been said. In Israel, do not use words that have more than one meaning, do not use sports terminology, do not use slang and avoid humorous jokes which may be misunderstood.

Click Here for Today's Weather in Israel