Israeli Business Etiquette

!שלום Shalom! ("Welcome to Israel!" in Hebrew)

When you think of Israel, you might think of a region caught in religious and political strife.  In recent years the conflicts involving the country have made headlines, and the discussions about the religious debates continue.  But while they may have a difficult present, the country also has a rich culture and history, beautiful beaches, and cities booming with business and industry.  They have a great education system, and the most advanced economic and industrial sectors in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.  Israel is active in agriculture, science and technology, transport, tourism, energy and more, making it a premier place to conduct business.

Before you take a business trip to Israel, why not learn about the dos and don’ts of Israeli business etiquette.

THE LOWDOWN

  • Hebrew and Arabic are both official languages in Israel.  Many Israelis also know English, and it is used commonly in business.
  • Israel is technically on the continent of Asia, although it is bordered by Egypt in Africa.
  • The capital of Israel is Jerusalem, which is also the largest, followed by Tel Aviv.  There are over 8 million people living in Israel.
  • Most Israelis are Jewish and observe the Sabbath, starting at sunset on Friday.  Because of this, the official work week is from Sunday to Thursday.
  • Religion is an important aspect in many Israeli lives, whether they are Orthodox Jews, Muslims or Christians, it is always important to respect religious views.

DRESSING SHARP

  • For the first meeting, you should dress how you would for a meeting in your home country, but Israelis tend to be more casual and informal.  After the first meeting, dress in business casual clothing like dresses or slacks and blouses.
  • Keep in mind religious views: If your business colleagues are Muslim or Orthodox Jewish, you might want to dress more conservatively.
  • Check the weather before you go! Israel has a Mediterranean climate with very hot, dry summers and cold, rainy winters.  Make sure you are prepared for the weather of the area you are going as the coastal cities may vary greatly from the desserts, mountains, or countryside.

MAKE OR BREAK MEETINGS

  • When scheduling a meeting, keep in mind religious practices.  The official work week is Sunday through Thursday, but some Christians may not work on Sunday.  Muslims do not work on Fridays.
  • The months of September and October contain many religious holidays, including Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah.  Also, keep in mind that the month of Ramadan is observed by Muslims.  If you can, avoid scheduling meetings in these months, and definitely avoid the holy days.
  • You should print your materials in English, but have Hebrew translations or an interpreter ready if needed.  Print business cards in English with a Hebrew translation on the opposite side, and make sure you read and acknowledge cards before putting them away.
  • Have a schedule for the meeting, but leave time to get to know each other.  Israeli people love to talk and want to learn more about their coworkers and colleagues.
  • Israelis tend to be informal, so it is alright to use first names after getting to know each other a bit.
  • Don’t be offended if you get interrupted.  Israelis don’t see this as rude, but like to be straightforward.  They also might answer questions directed at someone else.

DINING DECORUM

  • Jews keep Kosher and Muslims observe the Islamic dietary law of Halal.  Keep these restrictions in mind when if you plan on dining with your business partners.
  • Similar to the US, tipping is expected in restaurants.  A minimum of 10% for an unpleasant experience, and 15% or more for a good experience is the norm.  Waiters and waitresses prefer cash tips, so you might want to carry some spare change.
  • Lunch is the main meal in Israel, and commonly business meetings are conducted over sandwiches.  Dinner should be saved for more personal interactions and relaxed business discussions.
  • If invited to eat at a colleague’s home, it is acceptable to offer to make part of the meal like a salad, appetizer, or dessert.  You might also bring a small gift for the hostess.

GIVING AND GETTING GIFTS

  • Gifting in many businesses is not allowed.  It is acceptable to give small promotional items with logos, such as pens and desk items.  Personalized cards are also acceptable.
  • If invited to someone’s home, a small gift such as chocolates or flowers would be appreciated, as well as gifts for any children that might be present.
  • Recognizing the religious holidays of your colleagues is a sign of respect; sending a holiday-specific gift would be greatly appreciated.

DOWN TO BUSINESS

  • As previously stated, recognizing religious beliefs is extremely important in Israeli life and business.  Research the various religions and customs, and respect the practices of your colleagues.
  • Israelis are straightforward and to the point.  Don’t be surprised if they interrupt each other or shut down your offer, and try not to be offended.
  • Don’t bring up controversial topics like the holocaust or the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Now that you’re ready for your business trip to Israel, don’t forget to watch out for our next business etiquette blurb!

!שלום Shalom! ("Goodbye!" in Hebrew)

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