Israeli Culture

Do's and Don'ts

Do's

  • Common conversation topics among acquaintances range from impersonal matters (such as the weather or general news) to more personal topics (e.g. profession, family and marital status).
  • Israelis are generally open to conversations about heritage and ancestry. For many Israelis, remembering and sharing one’s ancestry and family tree is important due to ongoing collective experiences of loss for the Jewish people. However, sensitivity and respect should be expressed if your Israeli counterpart discusses their family’s ancestral history, especially regarding the Holocaust.
  • Discussions about the Israeli government, politics or religious issues can quickly become passionate and heated. Should these topics arise in conversation, listen carefully and sensitively to your Israeli counterpart.
  • It is best to be when communicating to Israelis. Israelis often communicate in a straightforward, honest way and make less use of subtle cues, partly because Hebrew is quite a language. Try not to interpret an Israeli’s directness as ill-intended or rude. 
  • Many Israelis regularly find themselves in a position of defending the existence of Israel. This defensiveness may at times reaffirm perceptions of Israelis as combative. Interaction with an Israeli is likely to be smoother if one takes time to understand and appreciate the contexts from the Israeli perspective and the historical processes that led to the creation of the nation-state of Israel.

 

Don'ts

  • Do not assume that all Israelis are or that all those who identify as Jewish also identify as . ‘Jewish’, ‘Israeli’ and ‘’ refer to distinct identities and are not interchangeable. 
  • Avoid presuming an Israeli’s stance on a topic on the basis of their religion or . People’s opinions do not always correlate to their , religion, geographic location or socioeconomic status. For instance, the Pew Research Forum found that 51% of Jews believe they can be Jewish as well as support Palestinians’ right of return.1
  • Do not tell an Israeli that they do not “look” Israeli. There is no ‘typical’ Israeli in terms of appearance since Israel is ethnically diverse. It is common to find Israelis who have mixed ancestry, as well as some Israelis with a more background.
  • Avoid generalising or stereotyping Israel or Israelis in relation to the Middle Eastern region. For example, do not assume Israelis are all Arab, or that Israel is an Arab country. Other commonly encountered harmful stereotypes relating to the country’s geopolitical position include assuming Israel has poor infrastructure or that the country is barren and unliveable.
  • Another major harmful stereotype Israelis encounter is that the country is dangerous or unsafe. Though well-intentioned, some people may express concern or sympathy towards an Israeli whose family resides in Israel or may congratulate an Israeli for ‘escaping’ the dangers of Israel. However, many Israelis and Jewish people around the world find Israel to be a safe and secure place, especially in terms of being protected from . The constant military presence in Israel is often welcomed as a way to maintain public safety.
  • Do not suggest that Israelis or Jews are responsible for (or have influence over) problems in the Middle East and other regions. Stereotypes about Jews' power, influence or wealth can be offensive and feed into long-standing narratives. 
  • Avoid openly and directly criticising the Israeli Defence Force or other defence agencies. Most Israelis have lost or know someone who has lost loved ones from their time in the IDF. Such criticisms may be interpreted as offensive and insensitive to the losses Israelis have experienced.

 

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1 Pew Research Forum, 2016

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