Israel Business Etiquette: Tips and Tricks
If you're in Israel for work, read our rules of business survival
Israelis are usually known for their direct and assertive negotiating style. Generally, they say what’s on their mind and what you see is what you get. The business culture in Israel is a curious mix of fast-paced and buzzy, but also informal. You’ll be wise to treat your colleagues, contacts and clients more like your friends - don’t worry, they’re likely to be good fun. Business partners take time to get to know each other and often socialise outside of office hours, so get ready to mix business with pleasure. Don’t be afraid if you’re interrupted in business meetings or in more informal settings - in Israel, business etiquette means the conversation is flowing and people are engaging with what you’re saying. In conclusion, think Mediterranean vibes - in Israel it’s more important to get things done, than to spend time procrastinating with formalities, hierarchies and office politics. So get to the beach, grab a beer, and start networking.
A handshake was generally considered the right way to do things in Israel…but that was pre-Coronavirus. If ever this manner of greeting is brought back, remember that you should be conscious of where you are and who you’re talking to. We have no idea why anyone would even consider shaking hands with anything other than the right hand, but if for some reason you decide to, you should know that some people (particularly Arab Israelis) would consider the left hand unclean. Israel is a tactile country, so try not to be alarmed and flinch if Israeli business etiquette turns to a friendly hand on the shoulder. Or they would consider it quite rude. Stick to using a person’s title, unless invited otherwise. It doesn’t hurt to be polite.
Thanks to its scorching temperatures, when it comes to dress codes, business etiquette in Israel is quite forgiving. Opt for a smart-casual style. Linen suits are always a winner. But if you’re just starting out and meeting your colleagues for the first time - especially if you’re a foreigner - it will be expected for you to make a good first impression and so you should go for full-on smart. Think suit and tie, formal blouses etc. Not that you would ever dream of it, but avoid cheap fabrics, as well pale colours that show sweat stains. You’re welcome. As ever, beachwear is not acceptable in the workplace, and be mindful of religious observances, which means dressing modestly. Which, of course, all sophisticated readers of Plum Guide would do regardless.
According to Israel business etiquette, you should always arrive on time, but don’t be surprised if the meeting begins a little late. Israeli time is often set about 10 to 15 minutes later than usual, but business meetings in Israel often run on time.
The working week
The working week in Israel runs from Sunday to Thursday, thanks to the Sabbath, known as ‘Shabbat’. Some international companies will remain open during the weekends, but in general, business ends on Friday evenings, with the average working day starting from around 8.30am or 9am until around 6pm. As such, the weekend runs on Fridays and Saturdays. Not that that needed explaining, but we know that your time off is as important to you as your time on.
Business etiquette in Israel dictates that international business is conducted mostly in English. But if you want to impress your new colleagues, learning a few basic phrases in Hebrew wouldn’t go a miss. We get it, it’s a completely different alphabet, and is written from right to left. Yes, Hebrew is a difficult language. If you can pronounce the names of Israeli companies or your new business associates correctly, however, it will earn you plenty of brownie points.
Almost as difficult as the language, is the political situation in Israel. Keep your beliefs about politics and religion to yourself and never bring them into the board room. Enough said.
Just as Shabbat will impact your working week, and travel on public transport, be aware of the impact of religion not just within Israeli society, but also within Israeli business etiquette. If you’re planning a working lunch with someone who is religious, be respectful of their traditions and make sure you book a kosher or halal restaurant (although most already are). If you get invited out to someone’s house for dinner, make sure that the wine you have so thoughtfully bought as a gift is also kosher, so as to avoid a very easy faux pas.