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Tips for Doing Business in Israel

Doing Business in Israel

Home to sacred Jewish, Muslim and Christian sites, Israel seems to have always existed along the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. However, the official State of Israel was not established until 1948.

While Jerusalem is the declared capital, Tel Aviv is the economic and technological hub of this highly educated and innovative country. Today, the estimated population of 8.7 million is approximately 75 percent Jewish, with Arabs comprising about 21 percent of the citizenry. Both Hebrew and Arabic are official national languages, but English is widely spoken and commonplace for conducting international business. Here are six tips for doing business in Israel.

1. Adjust your workweek.

The world’s only Jewish-majority nation, Israel follows the Hebrew calendar. The workweek is Sunday through Thursday and, while business may be conducted on Fridays, sunset marks the beginning of Shabbat, which continues until sundown Saturday. Be mindful of Jewish holidays, as business throughout the country will be halted. Also, the Muslim month of Ramadan will restrict business interactions with many Arabs.

2. Make cultural connections.

Israelis consider colleagues an extension of family. There is a blending of work and home life, with many employees taking work home or contacting co-workers after hours. They build strong relationships and spend time together in social situations.

Getting to know potential business partners is considered important, so do not be surprised by personal questions. Israelis tend to have less concern for personal space and will often stand close, gesture with hand and arms or touch the person they are addressing. Handshakes are common, except between men and women of strict faith. Learning a few phrases in your host’s language will also demonstrate respect.

3. Explore the startup scene.

Israel is the self-described Startup Nation, and technology is a major export. With thousands of venture capital companies and dozens of incubator programs in Tel Aviv and beyond, Israel has become the Silicon Valley of the Middle East. Notable startup successes include the crowdsourced navigation app Waze, an affordable Uber alternative called GetTaxi, and Fiverr, an online freelance marketplace where prices start at $5.

4. Move from formal to casual.

The Israeli workplace is generally casual. The weather is hot, and open-collared or polo shirts and casual trousers for men and blouses with skirts or pants for women are commonplace. Additionally, colleagues refer to each other by first name and tend to collaborate and contribute equally during meetings. However, it is best to begin business relationships with a more formal tone. Wear business attire for initial encounters and refer to people by title and surname until invited to use first names. Meetings with Orthodox Jewish or Muslim individuals dictate more conservative attire. Shorts are never appropriate and women should cover arms and legs.

5. Expect direct language.

Business in Israel is fast-paced and results-driven. Multitasking is the norm, so do not be put off by interruptions or boisterous distractions. By western standards, Israelis can seem blunt in their direct, honest communication style. Distributing agendas before meetings can help outline your purpose and goals, while persistence and flexibility will pay off during negotiations.

6. Hone your hospitality skills.

Hospitality is a core value in Israel. Gifts are often sent to commemorate holidays or mark the closing of large deals. Accept offers of beverages or snacks and be prepared to offer the same if you are hosting an event. Be mindful of both kosher and halal dietary restrictions, and do not offer food or drinks with your left hand.