Israel boasts some impressive facts and figures, such as having more medical device patents than any other country. It also has the second-most firms listed on the Nasdaq exchange, behind only the United States. It lists more companies on the Nasdaq than Europe and India combined.
Israel has attracted more venture capital investment per capita than most other countries (twice the amount of the United States and 30 times more than all of Western Europe.
It’s smart to learn what it means to do business in Israel, or with Israelis who may travel to the United States.
To understand Israel, the first thing to remember is that it’s a country that’s constantly at war. It’s surrounded by hostile neighbors and has plenty of people inside the country who wish to destroy it — terrorists, and political or religious organizations. Its citizens are proud to say Israel will persevere and succeed despite these ongoing battles.
Because Israel is at war, there are several things Americans shouldn’t take for granted.
Supply chains are easily disrupted. Israelis may have trouble getting raw materials when there is military hostility, and may have severe staff shortages in the event of battles or threats. It’s common for every male to serve in the Army reserve every year, and that service can be several weeks or several months, depending on whether there’s a direct military threat at the time. Men often serve in the Army reserve into their 50s.
Israelis have to deal with a constant security threat. This means that Israel’s partners must be especially patient with their Israeli counterparts.
There’s no such thing as an “ethnic Israeli,” unlike a country such as Norway, where there is a “typical Norwegian.” Israel is an immigrant country. Danish blondes, Ethiopian blacks, white people from New York, Iranians, Moroccans, Spaniards, Russians, etc. all make up Israel’s diverse population.
Contrast this to Norway, which is 90 percent Christian and 94.4 percent Caucasian, according to the CIA World Fact Book. When you have so many cultures with so many differences in food, clothing, negotiating strategies, belief systems and personality types, it becomes difficult to make cultural generalizations.
A Swedish man who immigrated to Israel will think differently than an Algerian man, though both are Israelis.
Because Israelis have so many cultures and are under so many threats, they like to size up their counterparts quickly. They like to have what’s been called “real conversations.”
They’ll ask such questions as:
• “Are you Jewish?”
• “What kind of Jewish are you?”
• “Are you a Zionist?” (Zionists believe Israel needs to exist as a Jewish homeland).
• “What kind of Zionist?”
• “How far would you go to help Israel?”
• “What are your views of President Obama’s statement about our country’s borders?”
Whereas many citizens of other countries will shy away from politics, Israelis prefer to discuss politics openly to test and research their counterparts.
America is a controversial country. Thus being an American overseas means you need to be a diplomat. Israel is no exception. And if you won’t argue with the locals, then Israelis often see that as a refusal to engage.
“Two Israelis, three opinions” goes the famous Israeli joke. And Israelis love to tell that joke. Israelis boast of their sense of humor just as they brag about their modern air force. The humor, the bantering, the political debates are all part of the culture. We may see this form of dialogue as argumentative, but they see it as way to get to know each other.
Their combative nature leads Israelis to refer to themselves as “Sabras.” A Sabra is a prickly pear, like a cactus. It’s tough and prickly on the outside, soft and moist on the inside. So while a Sabra may argue and scream and tell you you’re a moron, afterwards she will invite you into her home and feed you until you beg her to stop.
If you’re going to engage with Israelis, brush up on your politics. Understand the local players in the Middle East. Don’t take arguments personally. Be prepared for security checks and don’t take security for granted. Keep in mind that a Russian Israeli is not a Polish Israeli and not a Moroccan Israeli.
Embrace the diversity. How many places allow you to eat Romanian chopka (stew) French pastries and drink Turkish coffee while hearing Tunisian rap playing in the background?
Wouldn’t it be easier to do business in a place like Norway instead of Israel? Of course. But there are reasons why Israel has such a thriving economy.
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