Doing Business in Israel
Business culture in Israel, like its overall culture, is diverse with an occasionally surprising contrast between warm hospitality, direct no-nonsense business attitude, aggressive negotiations and a gregarious nature. Expats doing business in Israel should feel at ease in the casual culture, but should nevertheless prepare to be flexible and patient.
Israel ranked 52 (of 189 economies) in The World Bank’s 2017 Ease of Doing Business Survey, performing especially well in the categories of protecting minority investors (9th) and resolving insolvency (31st). However, the country ranked poorly in the enforcing contracts (89th) and registering property (126th) categories. These issues reveal the underlying religious nature of the country, where land ownership is regulated according to biblical law. This insight exposes the contrast and contradictions that exist in Israeli culture, a modern democratic country with dynamic and diverse religious interests.
Typical office hours are 9am to 6pm from Sunday to Thursday, but some business is conducted around the clock.
International business is conducted in English. Internal business is conducted in Hebrew.
Business casual; women may want to avoid revealing clothing for first encounters and with predominantly religious colleagues.
Business associates usually greet with a handshake. Expats should note that particularly religious associates do not shake hands with members of the opposite sex. Business cards may be exchanged for convenience, often at the end of an introductory meeting. It is appropriate to have them printed in English.
Companies typically send gifts to their customers at holiday times. The holidays include Passover in the early spring and Rosh Hashanah in early autumn. Champagne or flowers may be appropriate after closing a large deal.
Israeli society is generally very egalitarian and women are treated as equals.
Israel is a young country with few natural resources and it frequently faces adverse conditions. These factors play into all aspects of Israeli culture, including its business environment. Known as the Start-Up Nation, Israeli business is pervaded by technology and innovation. Israelis prize intelligence and creativity, showing respect for experts and prominent specialists in their field.
Business culture in Israel is casual and informal. Israelis are direct, assertive and persistent. Business is fast-paced and often conducted with an inherent urgency. At the same time, personal connections are of the utmost importance. Colleagues and business partners take time to get to know one another, socialise and drink coffee together.
The management style in Israel is often collaborative, and the concept of hierarchy is practically non-existent. Israelis are interested in solutions and results, and everyone is given the opportunity to voice their opinion. The culture places an enormous emphasis on hospitality and Israelis will make an effort to be accommodating to other cultures.
Business etiquette in Israel is relaxed. Many Israelis shake hands when greeting, although religious Jews won't greet members of the opposite sex in this way. When working with religious colleagues, it is important to be aware that they will not be available on the Sabbath (sundown on Friday until Saturday evening). It is customary to ask if there are special requirements when serving food or drink, as some Israelis observe the dietary laws of Kashrut.
Israelis typically dress in business casual, but occasionally dress very casually. If working with predominantly religious Jews, it may be appropriate to dress more conservatively and women should avoid low-cut tops and wear longer skirts.
Dos and don’ts of doing business in Israel
Do be prepared to offer drinks when hosting a meeting and prepare snacks when hosting long meetings.
Do respect diversity and individual opinions. Avoid politics in general conversation, as well as vocalising generalisations about the culture and people.
Do be prepared for everything to be negotiable and be assertive.
Don't offer to shake hands with a religious person of the opposite sex.
Don't be surprised by sudden changes in plans.
Do make polite conversation and be friendly, flexible and accommodating.