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Conflict in Israeli Culture: The Social Function and Cultural Place of Arguments

In most business meetings in Israel, one gets the sense that arguments are a vital component of the decision-making process. Seldom do argument and conflict during meetings threaten the participants’ social and professional relationships. More often than not, they simply enable opinions to be expressed, creating healthy competition or support and identification.arguments

An American manager whose company was acquired by an international Israeli firm says that his experience in working with Israelis has taught him that they have a deep need to be heard. According to him, Israelis naturally feel compelled to express disagreement at meetings. He thinks that such arguments should be allowed to run their course, out of the understanding that they are a legitimate type of discussion that often leads to interesting challenges and creative solutions.

I recently read a very interesting article about Israeli slang expressions and their amusing translations into English ( Here are two examples from the article:

‘SOF HADERECH – Literally means “end of the road” but used to describe something awesome. Like, “that party was end of the road.”’

‘AL HA’PANIM – Translates to “on the face.” Used to describe when something was really awful. “The food tonight was on my face,” meaning very bad.’

The article is nicely written and provides a peek into Israeli culture and its spoken slang. But more than the content, what really interested me this time were the many comments by readers, 68 of them. Most of the comments were from Israelis and literally all of them were arguments about the origins, meanings and translations of the slang terms. Almost every detail in the article was put on the Internet pulpit of public debate.

That’s exactly what happens in our daily lives in the public and business arena in Israel.

In New Zealand culture, just for example, people aim for equality and tranquility, sharing and consensus. Accordingly, at a New Zealand business meeting, participants conduct themselves quietly. A protocol is kept, and no loud opposition or arguments are expressed. Writing things down is their way of caring for the process.

Israelis, on the other hand, show how much they care by making themselves heard. The Israeli inclination for debate may be related to Judaism. Many people say that the Jewish religion and therefore Israeli culture as well, encourages discussion and argument. Our religious texts showcase various rabbis’ often conflicting interpretations of any and every Jewish law; and in popular culture we have the amusing expression: “Two Jews – three opinions.”

In today’s Israeli business culture, argument and discussion take place directly and sometimes bluntly, in a high tone of voice and aggressive body language, such as leaning forward, standing, making hand gestures, etc. Is argument a type of Israeli directness, a need for conflict and emotional expression, or just an element of Jewish tradition?

It’s hard to say. But in any case, it exists, also in the business environment. And yes, there is a definite need to be heard! Argument stimulates the entire process, emotional sharing and thinking outside the box, leading to surprisingly successful business results. Most importantly, those of you from other cultures should remember that it is an Israeli characteristic and certainly not directed at you personally.


More about the Israeli business culture can be found in the book Israeli Business Culture, available on Amazon:

This practical book combines background information with real-life anecdotes and recommendations for good cross-cultural communication.

Read more about the author of the book and the blog, Osnat Lautman, and the services offered by OLM Consulting, at


OLM Consulting Founder

Osnat Lautman is a well-known intercultural expert and the author of the Amazon bestselling book ‘Israeli Business Culture’. Osnat is passionate about cultures, connecting humans and breaking through culture barriers. She created the ISRAELI™ model of Israeli business characteristics (Informal, Straightforward, Risk-Taking, Ambitious, Entrepreneurial, Loud, Improvisational) to reveal the foundations of the Israeli innovative culture. Osnat supports many organizations and individuals to effectively connect and engage with Israelis, avoid misunderstanding and maximize the value of combining the innovative Israeli spirit into a multi culture environment.

Osnat is the founder of OLM Consulting and her customer include the Manufacturers’ Association of Israel, The Jewish Agency, Verint, NYU Tel Aviv, the British Embassy, the Swedish Embassy, the Belgium Embassy, FIDF, Israel Defense Ministry delegation in New York, JCC Association, National Bank of Australia, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 888 Holdings, Corning, SkyVision, ObserveIT, MX1, Israel Export Institute, StartApp, Tel Aviv Municipality, and many others.

Osnat lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, from 2009 to 2013. During this time, she started her extensive research on the differences between Israeli and non-Israeli business cultures, including video interviews with businesspeople from numerous origins. The recorded discussions are incorporated into her lectures and workshops for demonstration purposes.

Osnat holds:
M.A in Social Science and Communications, Bar Ilan University, Israel
Certificate in Organizational Development, New York University, New York
Coach License from Co-Active Training Institute, Israel

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