Israeli Worldview

Many Israelis consider themselves to be part of an extended family of Israeli citizens. But each individual is expected to take responsibility for his/her own actions and decisions and to display personal initiative.

Balanced Competition 
People cooperate well with one another on the same team, but business is highly competitive.

Task Oriented 
Relationships come first, but one way to build a relationship is by showing competence in completing tasks and keeping promises. Still, the desire to get things done quickly for someone may depend on the depth of the relationship.

There is very little focus on formal hierarchy. Israelis generally respect authority, but also feel free to challenge it, often questioning their bosses and others in positions of power. It is accepted that everyone can voice an opinion.

Need for Certainty
So much uncertainty exists in the lives of most Israelis that they exhibit a strong tendency toward uncertainty avoidance in situations which they can control. Business and government regulations are clearly defined and followed. Most prefer detailed information and ask many questions.

Israeli culture struggles between the ideals of universalism — the belief that one set of rules applies to everyone — and the principles of a religious state that gives special consideration to Jews over other populations.

Flexible (polychronic) Time 

While Israelis often seem to be in a hurry, they may be late for meetings, or allow frequent interruptions. A high degree of multi -tasking is the norm.

Cultural Notes:

  • Israelis call themselves “Sabras” after the fruit of the prickly pear cactus — thorny outside; soft inside
  • In proportion to the population, Israel has the most start-up companies in the world; and 3rd largest number of NASDAQ listed companies (behind U.S. and Canada)

Cultural Assumptions

  • Authority is necessary, but it is also one’s responsibility to question authority
  • Immigration is key to building a strong nation. (Israel has grown from 600,000 in 1948 to over 7 million today.)
  • All citizens must serve their country.
  • Education is of utmost importance. (Israel has the highest per capita number of university degrees.)
  • Directness and informality between fellow citizens show that relationships with fellow citizens is like that of extended family.
  • Performance and character are more important than seniority and status.
  • It is impossible to predict the future, so time scales of days and weeks are preferred over months.
  • Old and new / traditional and modern co-exist.
  • Values in Tension: Israel is a democracy, yet there are different rights for different citizens: Orthodox Jews do not serve in the military; Arab Jews feel they have fewer rights. Only 20% of Israelis are observant Jews.

Traditional Israeli Communication Style

Israelis are generally very direct and feel free to say what is on their minds in most situations. Indirect communication may be confusing and perceived as avoiding the true message. 

Low Context 
Words convey meaning and the message is to be taken literally. Communication style is constant and does not vary greatly by situation. However, because Israel has so many cultural groups, when working with Arab Israelis, for example, communication may be less direct and the way information is communicated may vary according to the situation and the relationship.

Israelis are generally very informal, but do expect some degree of formality when first meeting. People address each other by first name; casual dress in business is common; conversations can be casual and open, not relying on protocol or face.

Emotionally Expressive
Display of emotion is very common, and conversations between friends, colleagues and family members can become very loud and heated. This is not necessarily a sign of true conflict. Most Israelis believe it is healthier to release emotions rather than to hold them in. It is also a sign of being interested and engaged; staying cool and hiding emotions may be perceived as distant, uninterested and disingenuous.


Guidelines for Communicating with Israelis

  • Be prepared for very straightforward and direct communication. Be polite but direct in your communication.
  • Resist the desire to back away when people stand very close in conversation
  • Understand that emotional expressiveness is not necessarily anger, but simply a high degree of engagement.
  • Be prepared to participate fully in business and social conversations. Although in heated discussion of politics, you may choose to listen more than speak.
  • Learn at least a few words of Hebrew to show interest in your Israeli contacts.
  • Take time to understand the background and cultures of the immigrant Israelis you will encounter.
  • Do not plan to schedule meetings or other work on Friday or Saturday as almost all Israelis, even those who are not religious, observe the Sabbath. The work week is generally Sunday through Thursday.
  • In communicating with Israeli Arabs, understand that they will observe their own religious customs.
  • You may choose to dress formally at a first meeting to meet Israeli expectations of “outsider” business practices, but after that expect that informality will become the norm once a relationship is established.
  • Feel free to speak with employees at all levels of an organization. There is little concern for hierarchy. Decision makers do not only exist at the top.
  • Meetings, dinners and other conversations may frequently be interrupted by other calls or visitors. For Israelis time is very fluid (polychronic), and multi-tasking and constant attention to relationships with others means priorities may shift often.

Non-Verbal Dynamics

Most Israelis are comfortable with gesturing, as it accompanies emotionally expressive communication. “Please wait for a moment” is shown by putting the hand up, palm toward the body and slightly shaking the hand. Pointing the forefinger upward with the palm facing out means that the speaker has great knowledge about the point he is about to make. Shaking both hands, fingers slightly spread, can be used for emphasis. When around Israeli Arabs it is best to avoid giving or accepting anything with the left hand.

Shaking hands has not traditionally been the norm in Israel, but it is becoming more common. When shaking hands, leaning closer and repeating your new acquaintance’s name shows interest. Touching the arm, backslapping and other forms of brief touching are common during conversation. Men should not initiate touching women to respect religious traditions they may hold.

Israelis require much less personal space than North Americans and other Northern European cultures. People may stand very close when speaking. Although this may feel like an invasion of space, backing away may be perceived as cool and impersonal. Israeli cities are amongst the most densely-populated in the world and people are used to sharing tight space. Crowding rather than lining up is the norm.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Problems are aired openly and all involved are responsible for contributing to the solution. Discussions are energetic and aim for consensus. If conflict arises it can become heated; many companies have adopted conflict management systems.
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Provide challenges and opportunities for: increased responsibility; advancement; personal training and development; increased autonomy and decision-making authority. Provide a work environment that encourages close interpersonal relationships.
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Two-way open conversation that allows input from both superior and subordinate. At Israeli offices of multi-national corporations, 360 performance appraisals may be the norm.
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Direct, tough and emotional. Israelis may appear to lose their tempers often during negotiation and may expect to see similar involvement from their counterparts. Being able to give in to some demands will be necessary during haggling and hard bargaining. Attorneys are not involved in bargaining but do develop the contracts after the agreement is reached.
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Although consensus-driven, many Israelis believe they have the authority to make decisions. Process could involve long discussions, or the person in charge may simply make the decision. Feelings and emotions play an important role alongside intuition and data.
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Open, assertive; information should be supported by facts and data. All opinions are voiced. Heated discussions are accepted. Meetings may start late and end late. Frequent spontaneous meetings are accepted.
Respect for authority is expected, but it is also common to openly show disagreement. Subordinates expected to be treated as equals on the individual level.
HIRING Hiring is based on skills and experience. Relationship may also play a part in hiring. Labor laws encourage companies to hire women and Arab Israelis. Dismissal must follow labor law guidelines.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Technical expertise, professional history and living up to promises are key. Written contracts are important. Once a relationship is established, bonds are strong.