Your Guide to Israel

About Israel

Israel is perhaps the most fascinating, intriguing and complex country in the world. Geographically tiny, the country’s social, historical, economic and geographical matrix represents a singular association of contrasting attributes unique among the world’s nations and cultures. Snow covered mountains and tropical sea resorts, technology hotbeds and Byzantine churches, socialist-style settlements and free market corporations, Ethiopian traditions and Polish cuisines, Beemers and camels all exist together in a bustling, hyper-energetic, egalitarian, extroverted and impassioned caldron a mere 262 miles long and, in some areas, 10 miles wide.

The powerful Romans regarded ancient Israel as one of their most strategically important locations. Great roads and aqueducts interconnected bustling cities vital to the empire’s financial strength and political stability. For two thousand years, the Crusaders, Ottomans and other world powers regarded this region as crucial for their economic and strategic vitality.
In today’s global environment, modern Israel is once again becoming a vital element in the international strategies of both large and small US, European and Asia Pacific businesses. Long considered a critical region, the Near East has transformed into an attractive wellspring of commercial opportunity. As geopolitical change continues to unfold, Israel is rapidly assuming stature as an ideal gateway to vast, largely untapped, and highly lucrative markets.
A highly westernized nation located at the gateway to eastern cultures, Israel is positioned to become a commercial hub for numerous multinational companies. A Mediterranean country with a distinct “Western Suburban” flavor, a friendly, outgoing population, and a mild sun-belt climate, Israel has always been a premier attraction for travelers seeking to experience humanity’s cradle and the focus for an influx of global corporations seeking to establish a foothold in the region.

Israel’s geography mimics the country’s cultural, social, economic and political diversity. From north to south the land stretches no more than 262 miles long. At its widest, the country is 65 miles wide. Inside this geological package one can find the snow covered 8900 foot Mount Hermon at one end and the tropical, oasis-like Red Sea resort of Eilat at the other. In between a traveler passes the official Lowest Place on Earth – the soupy, salty Dead Sea, fertile volcanic valleys, coastal Mediterranean beaches, rolling olive-tree studded hillsides and dramatic red sand canyons.
Israel's four main cities are Jerusalem the capital; Tel Aviv, focus of the country's industrial, commercial, financial and cultural life, founded (1909) as the first Jewish city in modern times; Haifa, a major Mediterranean port and the industrial center of northern Israel; and Be'er Sheva, the largest population center in the south.
In 2010 Israel’s population numbered 7.6 million of whom 76.0% are Jewish, 16.3% Moslem, 2.1% Christian and 1.6% Druze.

Israel is an avid democracy with a Parliamentary government. Israelis are enthusiastic participants in the country’s political process and tend to immerse themselves in each and every political issue du-jour. Political discourse is encouraged and propagated by Israel’s media and savored as a hiatus from the rigors of day to day life and a social pastime among professional colleagues, friends, and relatives. Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset (a biblical term meaning Assemblage) is composed of numerous parties with Liberal, Centrist and Conservative platforms and representing the country’s multiple ethnic and cultural groups including Israel’s 16% Arab population who are Israeli citizens. As in many other democracies, Israelis elect Members of Parliament and majority party coalitions compose the governing cabinet headed by a Prime Minister.

A Socialist economy for almost forty years, Israel underwent a dramatic conversion to a Free Market, capitalist system in the mid 1980’s. In the years since, public sector corporations were privatized, bureaucracy, red tape, and protectionist policies were discouraged and competitiveness, productivity and exports boosted. The government reduced its involvement in economic initiatives, began limiting subsidies, deregulated currency and placed emphasis on promoting Israel’s high-tech & R&D capabilities.
Since the early 1990’s technology has become the hallmark of Israel’s economic leadership and prowess. The desire to transform a mostly barren land into a modern state was a key factor in Israel's early technological development. Today, the percentage of Israelis engaged in scientific and technological research and the amount spent on research and development (R&D) in relation to its GDP are among the highest in the world. Israel’s astonishing degree of global technological leadership is reflected in the following statistical data:
77% of Israel’s workforce has secondary education (2nd in the world). 24% of Israel’s workforce has academic degrees (3rd in the world). 12% of Israel’s workforce has advanced degrees. Israel has the highest per capita concentration of engineers in the world (135 per 10,000). Israel is the 3rd largest patents per capita producing country (2.04 per 10,000). Israel is the 1st largest producer of published scientific papers per capita (109 per 10,000). 359 Israeli companies were acquired for an aggregate $31.1 Billion since 1996. 170 Israeli companies raised $15.9 Billion in Initial Public Offerings since 1995. Israel ranks third in the amount of NASDAQ listed companies after the US and Canada.
Beyond mere statistics, Israel has become a cradle from which evolved many of the tech products that drive modern life. Quick investigations into the origins of many ubiquitous technologies reveal roots in Israel’s R&D hotbeds. Early PC microprocessors were first designed in Israel and still carry Hebrew code names such as Banias, Yonah, and Merom. Four years before the World Wide Web became a household tool, an Israeli company developed the Internet Chameleon browser. Internet telephony was pioneered by VocalTec. Instant Messaging was born in Israel as ICQ. Teva is the world’s leading generic drug company. Drip irrigation and Cherry Tomatoes are products of the country’s copious Ag R&D.
Global consumer product manufacturers, retailers, food chains, industrial corporations, and service providers have established local Israeli operations as a vehicle for commercial expansion in the Near East. Tapping Israel’s highly professional workforce, robust economy, thriving consumer markets, and dynamic commercial environment, these companies have successfully initiated independent operations or joint ventures with local Israeli partners. Israel’s Free-Trade agreements with both the EU and the US position the country as a major trade partner with most Western Hemisphere nations. The country’s technology industry has facilitated robust commercial relationships with India and China and the large eastern block immigration has contributed to extensive economic dependencies between Israel, Russia and most former Soviet Union nations.
Israel’s currency is the NIS – New Israel Shekel which is closely linked to the US Dollar and Euro. The country’s banking system is highly western and sophisticated and most Automated Teller machines will dispense Euro and Dollar currencies when requested.

Climate in Israel is as varied as the country’s heterogeneous geography. Low coastal areas along the Mediterranean Ocean are typically warm and humid in the summer with temps ranging from low 20’s to the mid 30’s Centigrade. Winters are cool along the coast with temps ranging from the teens to low 20’s Centigrade. There is no rainfall between May and September throughout the entire country with bright sunny days being the daily norm. Mountain regions in the North and the Jerusalem area are drier with lower nighttime temperatures during the summer and near freezing lows in mid-winter. Mountains and higher elevations experience several snow events each winter. The desert regions to the south are typically very hot and dry during daytime and cold at night.

There are three main religions in Israel: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Constitutionally, Israel is considered a Jewish state and a homeland for globally dispersed Jews. However, freedom of Religion and a citizen’s right to practice any faith is a core tenet of Israel’s democracy and government. The country is also host to the world headquarters of the Bahai faith, located in Haifa, a large Druze community and representatives of the Mormon faith. Because Israel was created primarily as a Jewish state, its founders established a core set of policies designed to instill basic traditions into daily life. After sixty years of nationhood, only the Sabbath (Saturday, the “Seventh Day”….) remains as a significant manifestation of the country’s dominant faith. Although public transportation is unavailable Friday afternoon to Saturday evening on religious grounds, retailers, businesses, corporations, government and municipal services close for the weekend like in any other country. Denominations of each major religion are common throughout Israel and places of worship are ubiquitous. There are numerous Synagogues, Mosques and Churches in every Israeli city. Amongst Israel’s Christian community there are Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox denominations. Israel’s Jewish majority is divided into reform, conservative and orthodox groups but percentage-wise the country’s Jewish population is secular placing emphasis on national pride and traditions rather than religious practice. Israel’s Moslem population is divided into the Sunni and Shiite denominations.
Feature: From Exile to Redemption– Cultural Legacy and the Israeli Business Mindset

More than in other countries, Israelis strongly reflect their roots, their national history, and the central issues that affect their society. The impact of culture and history on individuals living in more mature societies is less pronounced since issues such as identity and national fulfillment have become inborn elements of the collective “national psyche”. Israel, however is a relatively young country whose historical and cultural legacy is “fresh in the minds” of its citizens and it is this legacy that affects every day life and business culture.

Only sixty years old, Israel and its citizens negotiated a tortuous path leading from the perils of a two-thousand year Diaspora, pogroms, ghettos and a horrendous holocaust to a homeland burdened by geopolitical volatility and an unprecedented rate of socio-economic change. During the six decades of its existence the country has assimilated millions of immigrants, has endured crippling embargos, transformed an arid, hostile geography to a 21st century medley of sprawling urban development and cutting edge agriculture, converted from Socialism to Capitalism, and evolved from an Agro-Industrial society to an academic and technological hotbed.
Israel’s constant state of war and precarious national security have not deterred Israelis from maintaining an unrelenting commitment to preserving democracy and free speech, an uncompromising dedication to the development of a productive and successful economy, an intensive investment in the education and social well being of citizens, a passionate dedication to the propagation and development of the arts and sciences and an unyielding struggle to maintain peaceful lifestyles in a threatening environment. In the face of adversity Israelis continuously struggle to maintain a compassionate society while searching for a consensus designed to solve the region’s ultra complex geo-politics.
Given the above, the Israeli business mindset is at times a confusing synthesis of opposing behaviors and attitudes that can only be understood by a more holistic comprehension of Israel’s historical background, culture and social environment.

Israel’s short history and extremely rapid rate of cultural, social and economic change has diminished the predominance of “long-term” perspectives. Israelis think and function in a “short-term” environment and framework. Living in an environment of temporal uncertainty and possible future threat, creates to a considerable extent, a “culture of haste” in which Israelis rush to achieve tangible outcomes, taking “shortcuts” and improvising to generate quick results.
More than in other western cultures where individuals weigh possible gains or losses resulting from their choices, Israelis are especially sensitive to possible consequences of their actions. Israelis will tend to over-ponder conceivable risks and attempt to minimize possible negative outcomes and circumstances. For this reason Israelis will at times seem to be more suspicious, wary, and skeptical both in their personal and professional environments.

For years Israelis lived and worked in an environment that required continuous improvisation to overcome an inability to procure resources. A high degree of education and technological knowledge enabled Israelis to develop novel solutions that, at times, deviated from what may be considered “standard practice”. Survival and advancement through improvisation and innovation has always been viewed as a crucial factor influencing Israel’s ability to thrive as a nation.
Israelis tend to follow a lesser degree of linearity and organization in thought and expression, and accomplish both personal and professional tasks with a greater degree of multi-directional, frequently spontaneous, actions. Israelis are prolific inventors and excel at spontaneous modification of previous art. Individuality, spontaneity and a strong, highly cherished sense of personal freedom often detract
from the ability to team and cooperate effectively in groups sharing common goals.
In contrast to western social culture in which individuals maintain a high degree of privacy and interpersonal distance, living in a condensed and compromised environment drives Israelis to invest time and effort in developing social contacts and to seek the security and comfort generated by intense interpersonal association and communality among family members, neighbors and friends.
Israel’s revival is considered a truly amazing phenomenon world-wide. The country’s leadership in agriculture, biotechnology, medicine and recently its position as the second “Silicon Valley” has instilled in Israelis a profound sense of pride which is readily expressed in their day to day interactions with foreigners. Israelis instinctively translate the dramatic degree of achievement at the national level, into a perception of individual omnipotency. This unavoidable view can at times surface as “elitism” or a practical “we know better” attitude.

Released from centuries of oppression and subjugation of personal liberties, Israelis are very expressive, communicative, opinionated and outgoing. Emotions are frequently and passionately expressed out in the open. Democracy, free speech and a sense of new found liberty have generated a society in which individuals feel free to openly and frequently express opinions, even in highly structured, hierarchical or austere organizations or environments. Debate and discussion are a national “pastime” in Israel.

Feature: Communicating with Israelis
Foreign visitors tend to stereotype Israelis as “aggressive communicators”. Truthfully, some Europeans may say the same about native New Yorkers. Although instances in which conversations take on forceful tones occur in many countries, communications among Israelis are commonly misinterpreted as aggressive because the physical sounds of the Hebrew language (a staccato sounding Semite language) are frequently construed by foreign listeners as being brash and argumentative.
Israelis are usually stereotyped as interruptive communicators, recurrently slicing mid-sentence into the guest’s verbal flow. While there are cultural drivers for this communicative style, there is also a cognitive explanation why Israelis (and other foreigners…) talk in overlapping order: When Israelis converse with foreigners they do not have “native” command of the foreign language. They therefore need to invest much greater effort and concentration in understanding what is being said. Such concentration shifts energy from “comprehension” to physical “listening” and causes loss of focus on ideas and opinions that are generated during the conversation. An Israeli listener, sensing such loss of focus will hurry to address the issue at hand before the conversation moves on to the next segment. Such hurried attempts “to keep up” with conversational content can be understood as interruptive. It is better, therefore, for a foreigner to speak slowly and allow pauses for conversational redirect.
Israelis are also frequently accused of using their native language to conceal conversations from foreign guests. In reality Israelis will feel uncomfortable using language as a secretive dialog mechanism. More commonly, because they are avid and extroverted conversationalists, Israelis will switch automatically to Hebrew for convenience purposes and the odd feeling of conversing amongst themselves in a foreign language. However, guests who feel uncomfortable when their Israeli hosts converse amongst themselves in Hebrew should feel free to request that conversations be limited to English.
If you do not understand your Israeli counterpart’s English – ask him to repeat his words. It is unfortunate to compromise a relationship based on language technicalities. Conversely, ask your Israeli counterparts to tell you when they do not understand your words, sentences or ideas. Refrain from using “business-speak” or “politically correct” idioms. Use the word “problem” instead of “challenge”. Use simple words and phrases to convey ideas.

Appointment Alert
In general, Israel is a country with few business protocols. There are almost no unique cultural/behavioral codes governing protocols and social interface during business interactions in Israel. Basically, follow routine western US style conventions paying attention to unique local subtleties.
Dress code is casual unless meeting with top government personnel, high level executives at Israel’s top 50 companies, bankers, and prominent lawyers. There are no well-defined guidelines and it is always useful to inquire with local hosts. Business casual is the norm but formal attire can be an effective tool for achieving specific objectives.
Provide an agenda to your hosts, clearly outlining your objectives and timetables. It is always good to reconfirm pre-planned appointments since Israelis tend to multitask according to hurried, tumultuous sometimes diffuse schedules. .
Observe national holidays and routine workday hours. Business hours are typically 8AM to 5PM Sundays through Thursdays. Friday’s are typically reserved for private activities such as shopping and family activities but Israelis will accommodate business activities during Friday mornings if necessary. Plan to be on time for scheduled business meetings and activities - transportation can be problematic due to heavy traffic. Being moderately late is common and tolerated but you may forfeit some positional leverage in the process.

Test the language skills of your hosts. Adjust speech flow and content accordingly. In any case use simple sentences and repeat complex ones in several explanatory ways. Do not shy away from asking if something is clearly understood if it involves complexity. Do not use idioms or acronyms - Israelis are notoriously under-equipped to comprehend such language.
Handshaking is routine including with women. Business card exchange is common although Israelis are at times less observant of the protocol. Always provide your business card early on, and courteously request one in return (if important and not offered).
Seating arrangements are not protocol or culture driven.
Dry-marker and chart boards are accepted, commonly present and should be used to the greatest extent. Inquire ahead about other visual aids such as video and presentation projectors that are less commonly used.
Addressing by first names is common and important for creation of a comfortable communicative atmosphere. Shift to a first name basis as soon as situation allows.
Secretaries (usually women "Gatekeepers”) are still very predominant. Respect and acknowledge their function and presence.
Refreshments are always an important element in Israeli business hospitality. “Let’s discuss this over coffee” - a common business framework.
Business gifts are always appreciated. Desktop items and other “gadgets” are widely available in Israel. Gifts that are distinctly “foreign” will be appreciated and will serve as testimony to the host’s association with overseas business partners.
Lunch in Israel is usually heavier than in the US. In large companies, lunch is the main daily meal, similar in content to dinner, and may be served in the corporate dining room. Typical Lunch hours are 1 PM to 3 PM.
If you are invited to lunch or dinner - make your preferences known. Israelis are sensitive to their guest’s culinary enjoyment and fulfillment (“Jewish Mother” syndrome). If you invite Israeli guests to a local restaurant - reciprocate accordingly and if possible, maximize their experience.
Israelis appreciate humor and also closely follow many global current events. Humor, especially reflecting “popular” issues (in the US) can be used to your advantage but diligently refrain from word plays that may not be understood and sensitive issues such as race, religion and politics (that have to do with Israel).
Although Israelis are not renowned drinkers, modest alcohol consumption has become somewhat of a status attribute among contemporary Israeli businesspersons. They will enjoy being invited to an American style happy hour at a local bar (few available).
Israelis do not strictly separate between business and pleasure frameworks. Conversation will frequently gravitate towards work issues even during more social occasions, which can be diligently used to achieve communicative and business objectives.
Israelis are proud of their country and routinely offer to accompany their guest on a sightseeing tour or arrange for one to be provided by a professional. The country is small and most tours are short and interesting. Try to accept such offers even if on a tight schedule - your acceptance will be appreciated and valued as a token of your interest in the heritage, history and importance of the land and people. In addition, a joint tour can be an excellent venue for more relaxed business communications.
Thank you letters are very much appreciated by Israelis who view them as “Foreign Graciousness”. Such letters can be very effective. Business summaries and documentation should be sent separately.

Business Dress
Business dress in Israel is in general Euro-American and usually classified as casual. Non-religious Israelis will tend to be very tolerant and indifferent to attire gaffes. Israeli stores and boutiques carry all the well known American and European clothing brands and Israel is well known for its globally recognized designers and fashion brands. Having said that, Israelis expect foreign guests to dress in higher quality, visibly branded items that reflect their own country’s standards for high-end business-casual attire.
In the banking, financial, legal and political sectors, day to day men’s wear is mainly jackets, open collared long sleeve shirts and slacks. Dress for formal events in this environment is mostly jacket and tie and suits are reserved for the most official and high-level venues. Female executives regularly wear designer dresses and pant suits.
In most Israeli business environments outside the above, business attire is much more casual – jackets and ties are reserved for the most formal events. Most Israeli men will wear polo shirts, short or long-sleeved fabric shirts and cotton trousers, and women, dresses and blouse-pant combinations.
Although geographically small, Israel has significant weather variations and visitors should consider where in the country they will be staying and working. Winter weather in the northern and mountainous areas can be cold and blustery and requires coats, sweaters and wool clothing. Sweaters and lighter coats are fine for the milder winters along the coast. Desert nights year round can be cold. Summers along the coast are hot and humid and dictate light business casual attire. Summers in the north and mountains are typically very hot during daytime and rather cool at night – so some heavier wear is required for evening wear.
Foreign visitors who will be interfacing with Israel’s religious population should invest time in researching their host’s dress codes. Women in the traditional/religious communities typically wear modest non-revealing clothing with elbow length sleeves and dresses that must extend past knees or even ankles. Men frequently wear dark jackets, white, open-collared long-sleeved shirts, dark slacks and black shoes.
Guests invited to weekend or family oriented events should follow their own leisure-time dress codes. For sightseeing day trips jeans and tennis shoes are fine.

Israelis love to talk about traveling, cuisine, the arts, technology, sports and shopping. They appreciate hearing about a guest’s home country, his/her family and the attributes of his or her lifestyle.
Israelis are avid conversationalists, are flexible, non-structured and non-biased regarding content and cherish opportunities to connect with foreigners.
The most valuable rule of thumb on conversing with Israelis is: Tailor conversational content according to the degree of familiarity with the host.
Geopolitics and religion can be discussed if a guest’s outlook and demeanor are non-critical and non-argumentative. Israeli and Jewish history is fraught with traumatic events so any discussions in those areas should be well researched, sensitive, and more than anything else, compassionate and understanding.
Israelis will tend to mix business with pleasure, especially if they are entertaining business guests in non-business venues.
Measured, well placed compliments are always appreciated by Israelis.
First Name or Title
Israel’s culture and society operate on a “first name basis” so any business or personal relationship, given the atmosphere is friendly and cooperative, will quickly move to a first name basis.
Because Israelis are warm and enthusiastic hosts, and because they want visitors to feel “at home” and relaxed, guests should not be surprised or offended if Israelis quickly move to a first name basis.
As in many other Western countries titles are an individual preference and Israelis will either be sensitive to, or downplay, formal titles. Academic achievement is highly respected in Israel so it would always be wise, at least initially, to refer to physicians and academicians with their corresponding “Doctor” and/or “Professor” titles.
In business venues guests should use the traditional “Mr. or Miss Jones” format until enough rapport is established for first name conversation.
Let’s Make A Deal Part 1: Doing Business in Israel Israeli business style and culture is primarily American/West European and visiting businesspersons will encounter few challenges and cultural anxieties while interacting with Israelis.
While connections, business acquaintances and referrals are always an asset in every business environment, Israelis are globally oriented and value international relationships to a degree that rarely requires third party “introductions” as a crucial facilitative mechanism.
During meetings, seating arrangements are not governed by cultural norms and are at the discretion of both visitor and host. Israeli business card etiquette is generally Euro-American, cards are printed in English and routinely exchanged during meetings and informal get-togethers. Visitors should note the titles of Israelis since frequently terms for management positions differ from American standards. For example: In Israel, Presidents and CEO’s of companies are sometimes defined as General Managers. Visitors should feel free to inquire about the specific job functions of their Israeli hosts.
Sales brochures, corporate portfolios, meeting agendas and other documentation including routine email communications should be in English, the core global business language in Israel. Presentations should also be composed and delivered in English. As mentioned above, foreign businesspersons should ascertain that their Israeli hosts grasp more complex contexts and terminologies. Agreements and contracts should typically be supervised by legal experts fluent in both language and international law.
The concept of “Time Is Money” - is evolving as Israeli companies privatize, increase productivity, and adopt competitive strategies. The art of scheduling, prioritizing and allocating time is relatively undeveloped. Business schedules are therefore rather crowded and somewhat cluttered befitting Israel’s hurried environment. Deadlines are correspondingly flexible.
Israeli employees and executives, at all hierarchies, are typically very individualistic and expressive, seeing themselves more as important corporate assets rather than as “functional parts” in a greater organization. In Israel it is therefore not surprising to encounter an environment where “Every employee regards himself as manager”.
The degree of an Israeli employee’s subordination to his employer is markedly less than in the West where hierarchy is enforced and formal, and even less than in countries like Japan where total dedication to the company is a derivative of culture and lifestyle.
As mentioned before in the feature on the Israeli Business Mindset, Israelis are fiercely driven, independent, patriotic, and proud individuals. Whereas these traits sometimes lead foreign guests to view their hosts as egocentric, Israelis, who are avid “learners”, are actually very open and receptive to ideas and insight provided by global partners. Having said that, business visitors should consider that an authoritative demeanor can have a strong de-motivating effect on Israelis. Israelis are intensely analytical thinkers, emotionally sensitive, reward driven achievers who thrive when allowed to function in more entrepreneurial, less structured environments that foster expression, creativity and self fulfillment.
Foreigners doing business in Israel who are equipped with comprehensive insight on the Israeli Business Mindset and with an adequate measure of flexibility, are almost always assured a rewarding result and a pleasant experience in Israel.
Let’s Make a Deal Part 2: Negotiating in Israel As a foreigner, invest resources in researching your Israeli partner. (Objectives, needs, negotiating style, corporate profile and culture, and previous international business experience). Make sure language will not be a negotiation challenge.
Familiarize yourself with the personalities, experience and corporate positions of your partners. And, if possible and/or necessary, use a local consultant to assist in preliminary research or even during the negotiation itself.
Meet or communicate with your potential partners in an attempt to understand their needs and expectations from the negotiation (as opposed to your own private research). You may even request a “declaration of intent” in document form.
Plan your negotiating positions and strategy in advance based on your business requirements and results of your research. Provide the other side with an agenda clearly defining the purpose of the negotiation. If applicable, plan the physical environment for the negotiation process (rooms, meals, seating etc.).
Always highlight and reiterate the advantages and rewards, short and long term, which will result from a successful conclusion of the negotiation process. Increase value and incentive levels in order to secure concessions.
Use empathy to your advantage. Limit the amount of de-motivating elements such as control and dictation, creative limitation and reduced significance, and make concessions on secondary issues that may be important to your Israeli counterparts.
Israelis will seldom lose composure during negotiations and will usually prefer compromise in order to achieve a favorable result. In the rare occasions where negotiations become testy, suggest a cooling-off adjournment, relocate to a more informal environment, suggest a comprehensive re-analysis of obstacles or use a mutually agreed-upon mediator.
In exceptionally challenging situations judiciously leverage your position, experience and corporate clout as a negotiation mechanism. Subdivide the negotiation process into distinctive issues, isolate the contentious issues and address each issue on an individual basis putting aside items that have already been agreed upon. Use allies, either foreign or Israeli, to exert influence on the opposite party.
It is always advisable to draw up a contract or MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) when negotiations are finalized and agreement has been reached. Contracts should be worded in English and should be comprehensive and clear. Conditions and stipulations should be spelled out concisely in plain, easily readable language. Foreigners should try to have contracts stipulate that any legal proceedings occur in the guest’s home country.
Prosperous Entertaining
Entertainment is an Israeli “National Pastime” and major Israeli cities, especially Tel-Aviv, come alive at night and remain vibrantly busy until early morning hours. Secular Israelis savor Thursday and Friday nights as primary entertainment times, typically resting during late afternoons and leaving home after 10 PM to dine, club, visit friends and see shows or movies. Restaurants, traditional European Cafes, clubs and bars are colorful, multi-faceted, vibrant and at times overcrowded destinations for entertainment-thirsty Israelis.
The Israeli dining industry is especially developed and heterogeneous. Food is available in quick service, neighborhood, ethnic and fine dining venues. Cuisine covers the full range from American hamburgers and steaks, through Greek Mediterranean, to Middle Eastern, Chinese, Indian and more exotic kitchens. The most common food available is of the Mediterranean-Middle Eastern (Kebab, Hummus, Shishlik, Shawarma…) variety served at thousands of restaurants of various sizes throughout Israel. Seafood is served mainly Turkish-Mediterranean style (grilled or fried whole fish). Many eating establishments serve bountiful breakfasts featuring salads, many types of cheese, pastries, cereals and fruit. There are numerous fine dining establishments in every city serving French, Italian, American, Chinese and other menus. Upper scale restaurants are expensive.
Israelis frequently invite foreign guests to lunch and dinner. Lunches, typically had between Noon time and 2 PM, are more common for pre-determined business discussions. Lunch in Israel can be light quick service or a heavier meal. Dinners, usually late evening events, are more social venues for Israeli hosts and are usually had in upper scale establishments.
Most restaurants in Israel are Kosher – meat and dairy products are not served concurrently and there are no Pork items on the menu. Wine, bear and liquor are offered in almost every midsized restaurant. Beer is a common, accepted and readily available alcoholic beverage in Israel as are a large variety of local and imported wines. Moderate alcohol consumption is common and accepted. There are no special restaurant entertainment seating or etiquette codes in Israel. Courtesy and manners are Euro-American in form and fashion. Lunch and dinner atmospheres are usually easy-going and non-formal. Israeli hosts will tend to fret about their guest’s enjoyment and satiety – visitors should reciprocate by communicating their preferences and satisfaction in a friendly, non-formal fashion.
If foreign visitors host lunches or dinners in Israel or abroad, they should carefully research their Israeli guest’s preferences, especially in terms of Kosher food preferences. Foreigners entertaining Israelis at their homes should, as a rule of thumb, refrain from serving meat and dairy dishes at the same venue since even some lay Israelis keep Kosher. Also, pork products, and any foodstuffs not labeled “Kosher” should not be served.
Another Israeli pastime is the “Day Trip” – usually taken on weekends to different parts of the country. Israelis are enthusiastic day trip hosts and frequently invite foreign guests to such affairs. For Israelis a day trip with an overseas business guest is a wonderful opportunity to increase acquaintance, solidify relationships, talk business and boast about Israel’s marvelous scenery and history. Guests should really not miss out on such invitations since Israelis are frequently knowledgeable guides and gracious hosts along the trip. More importantly, since the farthest attractions are no more than a couple hours driving distance between each other – weekend trip invitations are exceptional opportunities to see Israel in a casual, hands-on and relaxed atmosphere.
Public Behavior
Israel is a Middle Eastern country with a predominantly Western value system. Israeli culture is a potpourri of many immigrant nationalities and their particular ethnic traits and conducts. While many Israelis are from eastern origins, most customs and unspoken social norms are western. Israel’s Jewish and Moslem populations differ culturally from mainstream Israeli society. Therefore, except for these two unique communities, public behavior in Israel will tend to be similar to norms accepted in any West European country or in the US.
In religious communities, foreign guests should dress and behave modestly and follow their host’s lead. When interacting with Israeli Moslems refrain from using the left hand for handshakes and gift giving. The left hand and soles of feet are considered impure in the Islamic religion. Visitors should refrain from greeting, touching or extending a handshake to both Jewish and Moslem devout women. Foreign guests should follow the lead of their religious host. If his wife is introduced a visitor can respond – otherwise consider traditional women as having lower social stature when in the presence of business guests.
Western offensive hand gestures are just as offensive in Israel.
Israelis are generally very polite, helpful, friendly and outgoing – especially towards foreign guests. However, Israelis tend to hurry about their business and people are at times on an emotional edge especially during summer heat waves and occasional times of geopolitical tension. Visitors should expect some impatience, infrequent outbursts and line cutting – Israelis are notorious for their dislike of queues.
Among Israel’s secular majority, eye contact, courteous greetings, an occasional sensitive touch, handshakes, smiles, gentlemanly compliments and subtle, non obtrusive gesturing are all acceptable and common forms of public behavior between men and women.

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