In Defense of Israeli “Rudeness”

My post, What Defines Israeli Parenting?, generated a lively discussion. Lack of manners among Israeli children came up again and again.

Please also read this response by Ruth: Anglo Immigrants: Arbiters of Social Rightness?.

Yesterday someone named named Trudy left the following comment:

We spent our sabbatical year in Israel in 07-08. It was a fabulous experience. I agree with most of the observations/comments above. For me, the most striking thing was the bad behaviour of the children AND the adults who had obviously been parented in a similar manner. Don’t get me wrong. My children also misbehave, but the difference is that, when they do, I notice, I care and I act. Many Israeli parents do not notice, care or act. They are raising another generation of rude, spoiled children. I had visited Israel 3 times before our sabbatical year and, of course, I noticed and experienced the rude behaviour of both adults and children. However, over the course of the year, this aspect of Israeli culture REALLY began to wear on me. It was embarrassing, as a Jew, to imagine what non-Jewish tourists thought of “us” as Jews. They are not just seeing rude Israelis, they are seeing rude Jews. Many of the Israelis that I spent time with while in Israel were also embarrassed by the behaviour of their fellow Israelis and their children. The difference, in almost every case, was that the people I spent time with – family and friends – had themselves lived in Canada or the US.

I should state again, because this reads as very negative. We loved our time in Israel and look forward to future vacations there. And to be sure, there are things that Israeli parents probably do a better job of than North American parents.

Mimi of Israeli Kitchen responded:

Trudy’s comments about Israeli behavior are unfortunately accurate. By American/Canadian lights, there is no culture of politeness here – no customer service – lots of confrontation.

On the other hand, it’s necessary not to care what outsiders might think if Israel is to survive in an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel world.

My Canadian sister almost dies of embarrassment when I respond to confrontation from people on the street. (I’ve lived here 33 years.)  She would much rather that I backed down, and answered softly to defuse the situation. She covers her face and shakes her head when I answer back.

My sis comes from a country with secure borders. A country whose citizens don’t experience the daily, hourly personal and national stress that we have. With a larger middle class used to more leisure and more material comfort, consideration and politeness come easier, maybe.

My life experience is different. I’ve sat in buses wondering if I’ll make it to my destination, or if my destiny will be to get blown up by a suicide bomber in the next few minutes. My children have attended funerals of kids their own ages, victims of terror. I look at my precious little grandchildren and pray that peace will come before they reach army age.

If there’s one thing rude Israeli culture has taught me, it’s that it takes assertiveness to survive.

So yes, Israelis are missing an essential element in that which lubricates social relations. It hurts us here and abroad. I’m perfectly willing to own that many of us need to be educated in manners, consideration, trust and trustworthiness.

But that hard, assertive core keeps us alive. No apologies for that.


  1. Fern,

    You really didn’t get my point. Everyone in Israel serves in the military or has family that serve in the military. Even a large chunk of charedim have family that serve. Again, a cultural factor that you completely don’t understand.

    I’d like to point out that the intentional murder rate in Israel is 1.87, while in the U.S it’s 5.8, right between Kenya and Turkey.

    If the U.S. is so “polite” why do so many of its citizens feel the need to murder each other? (especially so many more citizens than mean old Israel?)

    I think the larger point is, if you’re not living here and actually building Israeli society, your criticism as a diaspora Jew, even if it’s constructive and even if there’s a point, means very little.

    When you come here and take part in building our society, it will mean a lot more.

    • What you failed to mention however is that the traffic fatality rates are much higher in Israel than in the US or other western countries. If Israel is so “civilized” why do some many of its citizens feel the need to drive so aggressively that they’re killing each other. I’ve experience Israeli driving first hand during a six week business trip. It was so bad, that after a while I refused to drive in Israel.

      • Hi JoePat,
        I suggest you check your statistics. Israel’s per-capita traffic fatality rate is 5.7 per 100, 000 compared to the US. at 12.23. Yes, there are fewer cars per capita here. The US rate per vehicle is 15 per 100,000 vehicles while it is 18 in Israel. Not a huge difference. Of course, Americans drive much longer distances than we do here. If you compare per vehicle rates with those of Eastern Europe the fatality rate in those countries is significantly higher than in Israel (but not Western Europe).
        At any rate, there are many factors that go into fatality rates including road quality, levels of law enforcement, and much more. I don’t think it’s fair to assign a country’s rudeness level according to traffic fatality statistics.
        Also, the US is a big place–drivers in Manhattan or Boston are considered to be more aggressive than in Sacramento and it’s possible that the driving culture in those cities competes quite well with ours.

  2. I lived in the U.S. for 50+ years. I’ve lived in Israel for a bit over 3 years. The experiences I’ve had are mine and may differ from yours.

    The rudest, meanest, most self-centered children I’ve ever met were in California–products of what most Americans would consider privileged upbringings.

    The politest, most compassionate children I have ever met were in Japan and in Israel.

    If you bring me a cake, I will say thank you and offer you coffee — but that doesn’t give you the right to criticize my cooking and reorganize my kitchen. Likewise, I will gladly say “thank you” to anyone who wants to help support and defend my country. OTOH, I am offended that anyone who does so feels that it is okay to dictate to me, whether about my political positions, my society, or my child-raising.

    Americans are also individually and collectively some of the most confrontational people in the world–and usually see nothing wrong with that. At an office function, a man groped me under the table so I picked up a fork and stuck it in his hand while announcing at the top of my lungs that I didn’t want his (expletive deleted) hand on my body and if he didn’t remove it immediately, I would insert the fork somewhere more painful. I’m not sure if pain, threat or embarassment caused him to leave so abruptly….Americans do things like bomb Afghanistan into rubble because the Afghans were dumb enough to invoke tribal custom in protecting a terrorist mass murderer. I’m old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was pretty rude and confrontational–“move your nukes off the island or we nuke YOU.”

    Given the current political climate, I’m not sure “confrontational” is a negative, whether in the international arena or dealing with gropers and line-jumpers.

    Americans smile too much out of reflex, even when they don’t mean it, and then think Israelis aren’t friendly because we don’t smile so often. Americans think fake politeness is good manners whereas Israelis think its just a form of lying. Israelis are abrupt to the point of painfulness but think they’re treating you as an equal and as an adult. Hebrew lends itself to that kind of bluntness of expression that the English language can sidestep through synonyms and evasions.

    But Israel is also a place where people will gather to help someone who has fallen in the street whereas America is a place where people will step over you while you’re dying.

    I’ll take Israel, even with the bluntness and directness which too many Westerners mistake for rudeness.

  3. For me, being rude is being inconsiderate and behaving as if you are the only person in the world and everyone else is here for your pleasure.

    By that measure Americans are very rude – some American tourists will stop you in the street and ask directions or interrogate you for 15 minutes about the country and its history – and not thank you for your time or even ask if you have the time.

    Currently a group of Australian Jews in their twenties have moved in opposite me – and I have never had worse neighbors- they are basically drunk from noon till after midnight, hear music loudly and shout all the time, turning a very quiet street into hell. We have talked to them repeatedly to no effect and many others have called the police – nothing helps. Australians are really rude.

    Talking loudly on cellphones on the bus or in coffe shops, or hearing music loudly in public places and singing along is also rude and as far as I can tell this happens in the States as much or more as it happens in Israel.
    The amount of selfish, inconsiderate behavior in America is truly astounding.

    I have met rude people from many countries, including France, Spain and Italy.Germans are not rude – they just politely, and in an orderly manner, exterminate your people.

    In short, Israelis are rude, but not more so than other peoples in the West.

    On the other hand, the amount of Hessed here is astounding – Israel has the highest rate of donations to charity, per capita, than any other country in the world and if you are in trouble, someone will rise to the occasion.

    If you are poor or weak or old or a minority – Israeli society will treat you better than any other country.Not perfectly – better.
    Yes, even Arabs – you may have noticed that many Arabs are trying to get in to Israel to live here (probably the real reason the fence was built in the West Bank), but how many are leaving Israel for the “good life” in other Arab countries?

    For all its supposed rudeness, Israel has yet to conduct a war of extermination on another people (the United Nation “Human Rights” Commission reports and declarations not withstanding)or drop an atomic bomb on another country?
    The supposedly polite American and Europeans have done just that.

    So, looking at the big picture, Israeli rudeness and general conduct compares very well with the rest of the West, in my opinion.

    That said, line jumping here is epidemic and I hate it, but I guess I have to take the good with the bad.

  4. American manners have steadily declined over the years. We’re always complaining here now about the parents who don’t discipline their children (in movies or restaurants). That’s a different issue, though, than the issue of how adults treat each other during normal, everyday situations. Here, we always cringe when we see how rude customers treats shop keepers.

  5. Surprised in Tel Aviv says

    I agree with most of what’s been said above. I’ve been recently relocated to Tel Aviv and have been suffering some of the rudest behaviour one could ever imagine.
    I like this country; it’s a fascinating piece of land, ( culturally, historically and politically ).
    Nonetheless, I still do not undesrtand why do people behave in such way; their geopolitical situation is by no means an excuse to such rude behaviour.
    I get pushed off the line all the time, made fun at when I try to utter some words in Hebrew or made disrepectful jokes all the time ( even at stores when I’m trying to buy something); people are rude at the gym, on the beach, at the supermarket or in the shopping mall.
    I’ve lived all over the world; Spaniards, Germans and North Americans were always nice and welcoming; even people going through very difficult situations ( Mocambique; Angola) were much nicer than what Israelis are.
    There must be something very wrong with this country and I think that Israelis should make some sort of collective self-examination to understand why do they treat others that way.
    I came here freewillingly wanting to have a good and interesing experience but after a few months in Tel Aviv, I just feel like wanting to move somewhere else.

    • I want to answer “Surprised” because a friend and I made aliyah at the same time to the same place in Israel and have had very different experiences. She came from the US and I came from the UK, she’s been working in a hotel and I work from home. She has 2 children, I’m single and she’s younger than I am. With all that, she has found Israelis to be rude, aggressive and confrontational, where I’ve found them to be helpful, kind, honest and plain-speaking.

      No one has ever laughed at me when I try to speak Hebrew, although they usually switch to speaking English – probably to save time! 🙂 Taxi drivers who go in the wrong direction because of my bad Hebrew or who get caught in unexxpected traffic, immediately stop the meter and undercharge me (try finding a cab driver who’ll do THAT in London or New York!) Storekeepers go out of their way to find something I want that’s out of stock, even calling someone to go and buy it from another store. Cashiers in supermarkets realise I didn’t understand that I get 2 for the price of 1 and go and get the second one for me. I’m a “mature” woman, not a hottie by any means! I do however expect people to treat me with respect and I do the same to them. I don’t allow people to push in front of me in line, I’m not a frier, I’m assertive but I’m not rude.

      My friend, who I love dearly, seemed to expect everyone to try and rip her off from day 1. The first time I met her, she complained about a rude nail technician and every time we took a taxi together, she yelled at the driver if he didn’t go the way she thought was the quickest route. She was looking to get ripped off, and sometimes she was. I love Israel and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, she’s making yeridah after a year 🙁

      I believe very strongly that we create the experiences we have, by our expectations and the way we interact with other people – by our “vibe” if you like. If you’re not being treated the way you want to be, don’t look at Them – look at You.

  6. I’ve worked for over one year in a tourist information center in a resort town where we receive tourists from the US, Israel, Canada, SA, Europe and Australia. I can say with certainty that the only clients who always smile, push in their chairs when leaving, say ‘Excuse me’ before asking a question, and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, are the Australians.


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