Israeli Culture

Core Concepts

  • Diversity
  • Immigration to Israel (Aliyah)
  • Patriotism
  • Straight talk (Dugriut)
  • Adaptability
  • Duty


Israel is the first Jewish state to exist in approximately two millennia. For many Jews, the country represents the restoration of their historical homeland after a centuries-long , as well as a safe haven for the Jewish people. Israeli society has been shaped by a history of immigration, largely influenced by persecution and hostility towards Jews in other countries. Approximately 3.2 million people immigrated from all over the world since the country’s establishment in 1948.1 European Jews account for some of the largest waves of immigration throughout Israel’s history. There was also significant migration from North Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East. This rich history of migration coupled with continual immigration to Israel (aliyah) in the present day means that the country is home to a highly ethnically, religiously and linguistically diverse population.


Native-born Jewish Israelis (typically of Ashkenazi descent) form the dominant culture of contemporary society (see Ethnicity and Ancestry). Those who are Jewish and born in Israel are sometimes referred to as a ‘sabra’, which is a kind of pear that is tough and prickly on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside. The sabra is also a normative ideal of what the native-Israeli (Ashkenazi) Jew should be like: , informal and unapologetic about who they are and their place in the world. Though cultural attitudes largely differ across geographic, religious, and political affiliation lines, Israelis generally share pride in their adaptability, resilience and innovative spirit.


Establishment of Israel

The region that falls within Israel’s borders has been occupied by foreign powers throughout much of recent history, having been under the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire and successive Islamic Empires until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1922. Thereafter, it was placed under the British Mandate. The first large wave of Jewish migration to the region was undertaken mainly by Eastern Europeans, Russians and some Yemeni in the late 1800s to early 1900s. These initial Jewish migrant communities were instrumental in establishing the first Israeli agricultural settlements on the land, such as Tel Aviv. Further Jewish immigration and land purchases increased in the subsequent decades.


However, the main driver for mass immigration of European Jews to was the tragic events of the Holocaust and subsequent developments of various movements (see Zionism below). Between 1937 and 1947, the Jewish population that resided in Palestine before Israel’s creation increased from 400,000 to approximately 625,000.2 tensions and violence between the Arab majority and Jewish minority escalated as immigration increased. In 1947, the United Nations proposed the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. The Jewish nation-state of Israel was established shortly after in 1948.3


Israeli Identity

Israel’s national identity is largely connected to Judaism. The Jewish identity itself is a contested and fluid concept both within Israel and the Jewish . It can take on a spiritual dimension for some Israeli Jews, whereby national pride may be expressed through observance of religious laws and rituals. There are also many Jews for whom their Jewishness is a cultural, or ancestry identity marker, rather than a religious or national identity marker. Various Jewish symbols have become Israeli national symbols since independence, such as the Star of David which is featured on the Israeli flag. The ancient Hebrew language was also revived to become the official spoken and written vernacular of the country. The language’s revival has helped restore the Jewish people’s cultural and linguistic connection to the Middle East. Hebrew also provides Israelis with a common language that unifies the diversity of Jewish migrant groups, though many also retain linguistic connections through phrases and slang that reflect their heritage (such as Yiddish, Arabic or Russian).


Israel emphasises and maintains a cultural link to both Europe and the Middle East, as well as North Africa. The connection with Europe may be evident through music, with the popularity of Western classical music. For example, Israel has a national philharmonic orchestra and opera, numerous regional and local orchestras, and conservatoriums. Another notable example is the country’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest since 1973. Meanwhile, Jewish Israelis’ connection to the Middle East is visible in the popularity of Middle Eastern-style pop music, the use of Semitic languages (i.e. Hebrew and Arabic) and its cuisine.


Ethnicity and Ancestry

Alongside the diversity of the pre-existing local populations, the various waves of aliyah (immigration) of Jewish people from around the world over the last two centuries have shaped Israel into an ethnically and religiously diverse country. For instance, Israel’s political parties represent a range of different , religious and ideological affiliations. Consequently, no party has won any parliamentary election by a simple majority. It is estimated that 74.4% of Israelis identify as Jewish, while 20.9% identify as Arab and 4.7% identify with some other . Within the two broad categories of ‘Jewish’ and ‘Arab’, there are many sub- and religious groups, including Ethiopian Jews, Russian Jews, Palestinian Muslims and Christians, Druze, Bedouins, as well as sub-Saharan Africans and smaller groups of overseas workers from Asia.


Socioeconomic status can differ depending on or religious affiliations. In particular, Israeli Arabs, ultra- (Haredi) Jews and Jews who are ethnically Sephardi/Mizrahi are often in the lower-income bracket and face greater challenges to gaining employment and housing opportunities. Ultra- (Haredi) Jews also tend to have lower participation in the workforce as they prioritise religious study and commitments. Levels of education also vary considerably. For instance, Ashkenazi Jews are generally more educated than Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews and Israeli Arabs, with 33% of Ashkenazim having a university degree compared to 18% of Sephardim/Mizrahim and 16% of Arabs.4 These socioeconomic gaps can create social tensions, though such friction rarely escalates.



The majority of the Israeli population identify as ethnically Jewish (74.8%), of which 76.9% were born in Israel.5 The term ‘Jewish’ can be quite complex, as it is used as an or religious identifier depending on the context. The distinction between ‘ethnically Jewish’ and ‘religiously Jewish’ is fluid in some cases. Some see Jewishness and religious Jewishness as deeply intertwined, while others view them as separate identities. The Pew Research Center (2016) found 22% of Israel’s Jewish population considered Jewishness as a matter of religion, 55% considered it a matter of ancestry and culture, and 23% considered it to be a mixture of religion, ancestry and culture. These views are largely correlated with one’s level of religiosity. For example, ultra- (Haredi) and religiously observant (Dati) Jews are more inclined to view Jewishness as a religion, as opposed to (Hiloni) and traditional (Masorti) Jews who tend to view Jewishness as a matter of ancestry or culture.6


There are two broad Jewish groups in Israel: Ashkenazim and Sephardim. The term ashkenazim comes from the old Hebrew word for ‘Germany’. Today, it is used to refer to Jews from Northern, Eastern and some parts of Western Europe, as well as many American Jews who have European ancestry. Meanwhile, sephardim comes from the old Hebrew word for ‘Spain’, but today refers to Jews from the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa. In colloquial usage, Sephardim includes Jews who speak (or whose parents spoke) dialects of Persian, Berber or Arabic. Israeli Sephardim Jews often identify as Mizrahi () Jew. However, the term ‘mizrahi’ can be derogatory when used by others. In terms of religiosity, Ashkenazi Jews are more likely to identify as (Hiloni) or ultra- (Haredi), while Sephardi Jews are more likely to identify as traditional (Masorti) or religious (Dati).7


In addition to the Ashkenazim and Sephardim/Mizrahim, Israel is home to the largest Russian Jewish community in the world. Since the decline and fall of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, over one million immigrants from Russia and other former Soviet republics have arrived in Israel.8 Many have a background in highly skilled professions, such as medicine, science and engineering – as well as in the creative fields (e.g. musicians, artists and dancers). The majority of Russian Jews preserve their ancestry by maintaining the Russian language as well as Russian cultural customs. For instance, nearly three-quarters (73%) of Russian Jews in Israel primarily speak Russian at home.9 The vast majority (81%) of former Soviet Union-born Jews in Israel are (Hiloni).10


Israel is also home to the largest Ethiopian Jewish (Beta Israel) community in the world, with approximately 140,000 Ethiopian Jews.11 The vast majority migrated in two waves during the 1980s to 1990s. It is reported that Ethiopian Israelis are one of the most marginalised communities in the country, with members living in poorer neighbourhoods (mainly in central and south Israel) and facing barriers to education attainment and employment.12



Approximately one-fifth of the Israeli population (20.9%) are Arab, of which the vast majority are Palestinian (20.8%).13 Most identify as Muslim, though there is a sizeable minority that are Christian and Druze. There are also approximately 200,000 Bedouins in Israel, who mainly reside in the Negev desert.14 Since the establishment of Israel, the Arab population has mainly grown through high birth rates rather than immigration. Those of Arab is mainly concentrated in the city of Jerusalem and in northern Israel, such as the city of Haifa and the town of Nazareth. A small number reside in rural areas, typically in agricultural villages or Bedouin communities.


Despite being Israeli citizens, Palestinian Arabs often feel excluded from the Israeli identity due to separated education systems (see Social Structures) and the country’s identification as a ‘Jewish nation-state’.15 Exclusion is reinforced by particular government policies and laws, such as the recent reclassification of the Arabic language from an ‘official’ language of Israel to holding a ‘special status’.16 Many Palestinian Arab citizens’ sense of belonging tends to be based on their connection to Palestine as a displaced nation, as well as religious and cultural dimensions of Islam or Christianity. Moreover, the culture of Israel’s Arab population is considerably different from mainstream Jewish-Israeli culture and society. Palestinians living in Israel tend to socialise primarily within their own and/or religious communities and gravitate towards Arab-majority areas or cities. To learn more about Palestinian culture, please visit here.


Geography and Settlement Patterns

Israel is located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and is geographically diverse, containing coastal plains, highlands and the Negev desert. The country is divided into six districts: Central, Jerusalem, Haifa, Northern, Southern and Tel Aviv. Due to the arid conditions of the Negev desert, very few reside in the southern part of Israel, except for those living along the Gulf of Aqaba’s shore. The majority of Israel’s population live in and around Tel Aviv, the Sea of Galilee, and Jerusalem.


Tel Aviv is the major economic and cultural centre of Israel. The city forms the largest metropolitan area and contains just over two-fifths of the country’s population.17 Meanwhile, Jerusalem is the most populous city in the country and is also one of the oldest cities in the world. Jerusalem is home to a vast history, unique architecture, an abundance of archaeological heritage and a diverse population. The ‘Old City’ of Jerusalem is also spiritually important to the region’s major religious and groups (see The Sacred City of Jerusalem in Religion). The city is proclaimed as the capital of Israel, though this status does not have wide international recognition. Haifa is a large coastal city home to significant populations of both Jews and Arabs, that also has religious significance for the Baha'i community.


Israeli Settlements

The term ‘Israeli settlements’ typically refers to residential communities established on land outside of Israel’s internationally recognised territory. These settlements are generally inhabited by Jewish Israeli citizens. Israeli settlements are located in the West Bank (referred to as ‘Judea and Samaria’ by the Israeli government and specific Jewish religious groups) and Golan Heights but were also previously established in the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. As of 2018, there are 132 settlements and 121 outposts (settlements established illegally without Israeli government approval) in the West Bank.18 Israeli settlements continue to grow, with the population growth of settlements (3.5%) being just under double that of Israel’s population growth (1.9%) in 2018.19


The decision to reside in settlements is often based on religious or political grounds or economic reasons. For instance, some residents may have a desire to claim the West Bank as Israeli land, while others move into settlements because the housing tends to be cheap and subsidised.20 The quality of housing also differs among the settlements. Some are vast communities that resemble suburban developments, while others resemble shanty outposts.


The presence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank has become one of the most intractable issues between Israelis and Palestinians (see the West Bank in the Palestinian profile). Numerous UN resolutions have found the building of Israeli settlements to be a violation of the Geneva Convention and international law.21 Increasing Israeli residency poses barriers to the prospect of achieving a two-state solution as the settlements are built on land Palestinians see as part of their potential future state. Israeli settlements also continue to be a fundamental issue in domestic politics. Religious and religious-nationalist groups generally believe that the West Bank is rightfully part of Israel and therefore believe that Jewish Israelis are free to build settlements.22



In a broad sense, refers to the ideology of establishing, supporting and protecting a Jewish nation-state in what is now the country of Israel. The region in which Israel is located is believed to be the ancient homeland of Jews. The Jewish religious, cultural and historical attachment with the region has prevailed for centuries. However, interpretations and applications of thought have diversified through multiple movements. Therefore, it is important to understand the context from which originates to understand how it informs Israeli society today.


Emergence of Zionism

The major event that sparked the beginning of was the emancipation of Jewish people from ghettos in France (1791). This was followed by subsequent Jewish liberation movements across Western and Central Europe that allowed many Jewish people (who had previously been confined to petty trades and banking) to get involved in various factions of European society, such as academia, science and the arts. The rapid assimilation of European Jews dramatically altered relations between themselves and the non-Jewish population. Many non-Jewish people increasingly saw Jewish communities as economic threats. Meanwhile, many Jews themselves faced a challenge reconciling traditional Judaism with the values of European society.


Resentment of some Jewish people’s rapid success in society led to the rise of a new wave of across Europe. In response, many Jews attempted to secularise and further assimilate into Western European society, giving rise to a widespread secularisation of Judaism. However, hostility and prejudice still prevailed in many places. Some Jewish communities residing in Western Europe adopted ‘political as a way to alleviate . The ultimate objective of this was to establish a Jewish homeland in any available territory based on the European model of a nation-state. This meant that the state would not necessarily have to be in the ancient Jewish homeland in or be established for the purpose of granting a special place for the Hebrew language and Jewish religion.


Meanwhile, Jews residing in Eastern Europe still faced barriers participating in mainstream society, and responded to their conditions with a movement of ‘cultural. The goal of cultural was to establish small settlements in to revive Jewish culture and the Hebrew language. ‘Labour emerged in response to both political and cultural , seeking to establish Jewish settlements based on a socialist model of governance. Another response was ‘revisionist, which argued for mass Jewish immigration to , the immediate declaration of Jewish statehood and the creation of a well-trained Jewish self-defence organisation.


Each movement of has impacted the creation of Israel and its society today. For instance, labour is reflected in the socialist housing structures of the kibbutzim and moshavim (see Social Structures). Cultural is evident in the widespread use of Jewish cultural symbols as part of Israeli culture and national identity. Meanwhile, revisionist was a driving force behind establishing the Israeli Defence Force, which now plays a major role in Israeli society (see Militarism).


Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust

The term ‘’ refers to hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as a religious or group. sentiments culminated during WWII with the Holocaust (also known as Shoah in Hebrew). This event saw the systematic extermination of European Jews by the Nazi regime in Germany on the basis of supposed Jewish biological characteristics, rather than or religious affiliation. The impact of the Holocaust for the world’s Jewish population is enormous. In 1939, approximately 10 million of the world’s 16 million Jewish people resided in Europe.23 By 1945, nearly 6 million Jews were killed throughout German-occupied Europe, mostly in the major concentration camps.24


This devastating event had a major impact on the growth of , as many of Europe’s surviving Jews sought refuge in to create a safe haven to rebuild their lives. continues to be a highly sensitive topic for many Israelis due to collective historical experiences of hostility, discrimination and persecution. Therefore, it is important to consider that criticism or negative comments about the existence of Israel as a nation-state, its government policies (especially regarding Palestine) or about ideology may be interpreted or misconstrued as .


Zionism Today

Today, often refers to the imperative to protect and support Israel as a Jewish nation-state. Though ideas and beliefs generally inform the politics and governance of Israel today, the level of influence ideas should have on Israeli politics and society continues to be a point of tension. Those who identify as often have different opinions as to how the protection and support of Israel should be carried out. Moreover, is not necessarily supported by all or religious Jews. For instance, only 33% of ultra- (Haredi) Jews believe that the term ‘’ describes them accurately, while 85% of religious (Dati) Jews agree that ‘’ describes them very or somewhat accurately.25 Some other religious communities, including select Christian churches and denominations, may actively support . However, Arabs and Palestinians generally have negative views on and the impact of its application on their people.26 Thus, one should not assume that all Israelis or those who identify as Jewish also identify with the ideas and applications of .


Immigration to Israel (Aliyah)

The Hebrew word ‘aliyah’ (literally meaning ‘ascent’) refers to the act of immigrating to Israel.  Someone who ‘makes aliyah’ is referred to as an ‘oleh’. Approximately 3.2 million people have immigrated to Israel from all over the world since the country’s establishment in 1948.27 Thus, Israel is home to many who are first-, second- or third-generation migrants. There has been a massive cultural transformation over generations as Jewish European immigrants have collectively come to form the native-born Jewish Israeli population. The large number of immigrant groups has significantly influenced the dominant values of society, making Israeli culture quite unique.28


Aliyah continues to have ideological, historical and political impacts in Israel as a cultural concept and process. Ideologically, as the return of the Jewish to their ancestral homeland, aliyah is one of the main goals of the movement. It accounts for most of Israel’s population growth before and after the proclamation of the State of Israel. For instance, between 1922 and 1948, 75% of the population growth in historical Palestine was due to Jewish immigration, and between 1948-1960, immigration made up 69% of annual population growth.29 Politically, aliyah is also linked to the Law of Return, whereby all non-Israeli Jews are entitled to settle in Israel and become Israeli citizens. This includes their descendants (in accordance to Judaism’s understanding of Jewish ancestry), as well as those who convert to () Judaism.


In the present-day context, aliyah is generally understood as a personal journey for an individual who wishes to relocate to Israel. The reasons for making aliyah vary, with some seeing the act as a religious imperative, while others wish to affirm their Jewish identity, to strengthen their feeling of belonging, employment opportunities or higher standard of living. Nearly the entire Jewish population in Israel (98%) agree that all Jews have a right to make aliyah or move to Israel and become a citizen.30


Various institutions have been established to assist immigrants in their transition into Israeli society. There are various private and government-sponsored intensive language programs (known as ulpanim) that help adult immigrants learn Hebrew for free or minimal fees. Another related institution is the merkaz klita (‘absorption centre’), which combines the ulpan with long-term accommodation for families. Nonetheless, many continue to maintain ties to their heritage, despite their broader affiliation to the Jewish Israeli identity. For instance, some may visit synagogues established by their respective communities. Another example is that, while most newspapers are printed in Hebrew, a considerable number are also published in English, Yiddish, German, Russian, Polish, Arabic, French, Bulgarian and Romanian.


Emigration from Israeli (Yerida)

The term ‘yerida’ (literally ‘descent’) is the somewhat derogatory term that refers to emigration from Israel (i.e. the opposite of aliyah). Yerida can be a sensitive topic for some Israelis for a variety of reasons. Those with strong sentiments may be critical of the act of yerida due to the efforts undertaken to bring the Jewish to their ancestral homeland. Geopolitical and domestic issues often form part of the reason Israelis may decide to emigrate or travel abroad. For instance, some wish to emigrate due to the cost of living or for professional reasons, while others leave due to ongoing geopolitical tensions in the region.


Travel and tourism have gained popularity over recent decades. It is not uncommon to find Israelis holidaying abroad to unwind after intense experiences of completing their compulsory military service. Of those who undertake yerida, many follow a circular migration pattern and eventually return (hazara). Israel allows for dual citizenship, which helps facilitate circular migration patterns. Indeed, Israelis who have migrated abroad usually maintain regular contact with their family or return to Israel often to visit.


Regional Conflicts and Cultural Impacts

Experiences of ongoing military conflict over multiple generations have significantly impacted Israeli culture and society. Israel’s history supports the notion that the Jewish people have been in a constant position of defending themselves, whether out of vulnerability due to the shared experiences of the Holocaust (Shoah) or facing hostile forces. Many Israelis are familiar with experiences of grief and loss due to the pervasiveness of death in historical and ongoing conflicts. A consistent feeling of vulnerability and uncertainty has persisted as each generation has faced different social and psychological stresses.


The establishment of Israel in 1948 was marked by violence and upheavals. Over subsequent decades, the nation fought against multiple Arab countries that opposed the nation-state’s existence in . These conflicts included the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War as well as the Lebanon Wars in 1982 and 2006. Israel came to occupy the Palestinian-majority territories of West Bank and Gaza following the broader Arab-Israeli conflicts, creating further tensions and frustrations in these territories. In 1987, Palestinians responded with non-violent protests and boycotts towards the Israeli military, leading to the First Intifada (‘uprising’). This movement escalated to more violence, including throwing rocks, molotov cocktails and hand grenades that primarily affected the security of Jerusalem.


While the First Intifada ended in 1993, the 21st century has been marked by further violence and terrorism between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Second Intifada occurred from 2000 to 2005 and was more violent, with Palestinian militants using suicide bombs, rocket attacks and sniper fire.31 Suicide bombers often targeted Israeli shopping malls and public transportation, which sparked constant fear of the possibility of sudden attacks. Israelis generally considered the conflict to be a prolonged terror campaign perpetuated by the Palestinian National Authority and various Palestinian militant groups. This impacted many Jewish Israeli perceptions of Palestinians as violent terrorists, which led to further social tensions.


While Israel’s role in conflict is sometimes portrayed as aggressive in international dialogues, Israelis generally see these actions as a necessary defence. As a result, some regularly find themselves in the position of loyally defending their country, which somewhat reaffirms stereotypes of them as combative people. Many Israelis have undergone compulsory military service in hostile and often violent areas and may feel deeply committed to protecting Israel as a way to maintain the safety of their families and friends. Ultimately, these experiences have strongly contributed to an emphasis on and patriotism in Israeli culture.



has been a feature of Israeli society since the nation was established. This is the belief that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it to defend or promote national interests. Emphasis on differs depending on the level of regional instability within Israel. However, the Israeli government has traditionally devoted considerable resources to national defence. Today, Israel continues to be one of the countries with the highest military spending as a portion of their GDP.


The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) plays a major role in the lives of most Israelis. Israel enforces active-duty military conscription of 32 months for men and 24 months for women. Military service is compulsory for Jewish men and women, as well as Druze and Circassian men. A number of minority groups are allowed an exemption, such as ultra- Jews on the condition of religious study (though this remains a contentious political issue). Arabs who identify as Christian or Muslim (including Palestinian Arabs) may volunteer, but the areas of the military they can serve in are restricted. The IDF also accepts non-Israeli citizens; thus it is not uncommon to find volunteers from the Jewish serving.


Military service is openly acknowledged and normalised from a young age. Initial testing to determine someone’s potential role in the military begins during high school. Completing one’s compulsory military service demonstrates respect, devotion and duty towards the Israeli nation-state and is a major part of the sabra (native-Israeli Jew) identity. Israelis who do not or cannot complete their compulsory military service may face social disapproval. Moreover, military service can often be used as a way to indirectly discriminate against particular non-Jewish groups. For instance, jobs or housing opportunities may advertise that the individual must have completed their compulsory military service. High military ranking can also open up many employment opportunities once an individual has returned to civilian life.


Given the pervasiveness of the IDF, the boundary between military and civilian spheres of Israeli society are somewhat vague. For example, reserve duty for all Israelis who have undertaken their compulsory military service ultimately means someone may be recalled into the military and rapidly mobilised for deployment, especially Israelis of certain military ranks. Thus, one is expected to be adaptable as they transition from working at home or in the office to an army base or combative territory. Military presence can be found throughout the country, which for many Jewish Israelis provides a sense of security. Certain values and attitudes learned in the military also influence broader Israeli society, such as military language and slang, duty to protect the Jewish people, camaraderie among fellow Israelis and ongoing commemoration of military successes, losses and heroism.


Social Structures


Education, especially tertiary studies, is a major value in Israeli and Jewish culture. It is often seen as a form of social mobility into a higher socioeconomic status. As such, parents are usually willing to make financial sacrifices to ensure their children have the opportunity to be highly educated. In Israel, primary and secondary education is often separated along ethno-religious lines. Schools fall under three broad categories: state schools, state religious schools, or private religious schools. State religious schools often include a combination of Jewish studies and studies, while some ultra- schools may focus solely on Torah study. There are also schools oriented towards the Arab population by teaching in Arabic and offering a curriculum based on Arab history and culture. Few schools integrate both Jewish and Arab students.


Legal Jurisdictions

Separation along ethno-religious lines also occurs in Israel’s legal structure, which combines basic common laws with several separate jurisdictions according to religious affiliation. The millet (religious community) system is still in place from Ottoman times, which means that Jews, Muslims and Christians are subject to separate jurisdictions for personal matters. Such laws include marriage, divorce, adoptions and inheritance. This means there is no civil judiciary that applies to all Israeli citizens for a large area of law dealing with personal matters. Navigating legal matters can be quite complex. For instance, some citizens are still under the jurisdiction of religious authorities even if they identify as . This may sometimes cause social tensions and challenges for Jewish Israelis who are neither religiously observant nor identify with forms of Judaism.


Kibbutz and Moshav

Kibbutz and moshav are two kinds of housing and social structures unique to Israel. In a kibbutz or moshav, each resident is actively involved in building the community and its resources. The number of residents vary; some are small with only ten residents while others may have up to 1,500 people. The term kibbutz (meaning ‘gathering’ or ‘collective’) refers to collective settlements that are usually focused on agricultural and industrial work. Life in a kibbutz is typically communal and resources are generally distributed among the residents equally. Reforms within individual kibbutzim have led to some becoming privatised, while others have introduced differential wages, opened up to tourism or allowed residents to work outside the communes. There are over 250 kibbutzim across the country.32


Meanwhile, the term moshav (meaning ‘settlement’) refers to a type of cooperative agricultural settlement. The underlying principle of moshavim is private ownership of land, minimal hired labour and communal marketing. The moshav style of settlement is an intermediate stage between privately owned settlements and the total communal living of the kibbutz. A common kind of moshav is moshav ovdim (‘settlement of workers’), which consists of privately farmed agricultural land with an emphasis on citrus farming and mixed farming.


Adaptability and Entrepreneurship

A wide history of immigration and collective experiences of adversity and endurance have driven entrepreneurship and influenced many Israelis to be adaptable and innovative in their daily lives. For instance, the local shuk (market) is filled with entrepreneurial vendors and constant negotiations of the prices of market goods. A popular phrase relating to Israelis’ adaptable and entrepreneurial attitude is ‘chutzpah’ (literally meaning ‘rudeness’ or ‘cheekiness’), which conveys a sense of assertiveness, directness and confidence. Chutzpah is part of the blunt and forthright communication style of many native-born Israelis known as dugriut (‘straight talk’). Criticism and ideas are usually communicated with chutzpah. At times, communication can be a challenge as some Israelis may come across as blunt or inattentive to social or cultural , though this is rarely the intention (see Communication for more information).


A major example of entrepreneurship is the large number of startup companies in the country. Israel is sometimes known as the “Startup Nation” due to having the largest number of startups per capita in the world (approximately one startup for every 1,400 people).33 Moreover, approximately 1,100 to 1,380 startups are established every year.34 Thus, it is not uncommon for Israelis to be involved in or know someone working in a startup or the technology sector. Some attribute the large number of startups to technological experience, adaptability and an innovative mindset gained while serving in the IDF, as well as chutzpah.35



1 Central Bureau of Statistics, 2018
2 United Nations, 2014
3 United Nations, 2014
4 Pew Research Center, 2016
5 Central Intelligence Agency, 2020
6 Pew Research Center, 2016
7 Pew Research Center, 2016
8 Maltz, 2014
9 Theodorou, 2016
10 Theodorou, 2016
11 Minority Rights Group International, 2020c
12 Minority Rights Group International, 2020c
13 Minority Rights Group International, 2020d
14 Minority Rights Group International, 2020a
15 Minority Rights Group International, 2020d
16 Berger, 2018
17 Razin, 2019
18 PeaceNow, 2019
19 PeaceNow, 2019
20 Beauchamp, 2018a
21 Amnesty International, 2019; B’TSELEM, 2017
22 Remnick, 2013
23 Metz, 1988; Yad Vashem, 2020
24 Yad Vashem, 2020
25 Pew Research Center, 2016
26 Beauchamp, 2018c
27 Central Bureau of Statistics, 2018
28 Hofstede Insights, 2019
29 Metz, 1988
30 Pew Research Center, 2016
31 Beauchamp, 2018d
32 Tikkanen, 2019
33 Solomon, 2017
34 Bordo, 2018
35 Yerman, 2019

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