Why Is Israel A Low-Trust Society?

As a convert to Judaism, I see tremendous cooperation and trust between Jews. On the other hand, Israel, the Jewish state, is clearly a low-trust society. Why?

And if the Jewish state has low trust, does that not argue against Jews being cohesive in pursuing their group interest?

A Jewish friend says:

Semitic people are low-trust by nature as opposed to Nordics. You are essentially asking, “Why does Israeli society have so much in common with other semitic cultures?”

Another Jewish friend says to me:

I wonder if under the British Mandate and at the beginning of the country, the kibbutzniks had a greater trust. I would suspect they did, having idealistically voluntarily chosen to participate in a true communist experiment. I would also think that the large wave of German refugees between 1933 and 1938 also retained their Germanic trust in each other.

But it is certainly true, that in many of the societies from which Israelis emigrated, Jews were, even if many of them were rich, were nations in which Jews felt they were in some way marginalized and in many of those nations, the government, especially on the local level was corrupt, where tax evasion and bribes to do business or be free from harassment were common.

Jews in many of those societies probably had a certain degree of trust among themselves against the outsiders, but once they became the dominant group, their subgroups began to not trust one another. I don’t think it is anything innate to Jews. They just didn’t evolve or live in high trust societies, which are fairly rare.

I think that one other reason for a lack of trust is that Jews were not really working in occupations where a high amount of trust was needed. If you read Sholom Aleicham’s stories (including the Tevye stories which formed the basis for Fiddler on the Roof) about the Jewish Shtetl life in the Pale of the Settlement, or even I.B. Singer’s stories which range from village life to deeply Hasidic life, to life in Warsaw, to life in New York, it doesn’t appear to be a high trust community.

From the Forward, March 8, 2015:

“Israelis grow up with the expression of ‘never be a freier,’ i.e., a push-over or loser, someone who can be taken for a ride,” Ari Ben Zeev wrote in his 2001 book “The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Israelis.” “This omnipresent need ‘not to be a freier’ can be traced to 2,000 years of being a struggling minority and also to the Middle Eastern neighborhood rule that everything is negotiable.”
Some Israelis think of American tourists and American immigrants in particular as freiers. In a 1998 study of American Jewish immigrants to Israel, by Linda-Renee Bloch, one interviewee said he felt that Israelis saw him as having made the ultimate freier move by moving to Israel in the first place. In their eyes he fell for Israel’s “sales pitch” and traded the relative ease of American life for Israeli instability.
An American might respond with the saying “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” and observe that this outlook, with deep roots in the American psyche, rebuts the Israeli stereotype of Americans as ever-trusting.
But for many Israelis, the question is, why trust anyone even once?

Mark Minter: “Another super quality post from ThoseWhoCanSee about high trust vs low trust societies and how rare high trust is, namely No. Euro and Anglo. The high form of this is the ‘queue’, so common among us, and so baffling to others. This guy is one of the best long form writers on the alt-right that is always well researched with wonderful illustrations, charts, images, etc.”


A freier, in Israeli eyes, is a shopper who waits in line to pay retail. It is a driver who searches for legal parking rather than pulling onto the sidewalk with the other cars. … The fear of being a sucker turns driving into a bumper-car competition and makes grocery shopping as trying as arm wrestling. 

… ‘In London, the culture is to give way, be a gentleman, don’t compete,’ said Peri, the former editor. ‘But an Israeli is the opposite. If you are stronger, why should you give way to someone weaker? In a debate, the British will say, ‘You have a point.’ In a debate here, no Israeli will admit he has been persuaded to change his mind. That shows weakness.

Americans often find the Israeli attitude intolerably rude. Israelis, meanwhile, find Americans to be the biggest freiers of all. They are naive idealists. …  Americans are perceived as innocents who follow the rules and who believe a person will actually do what he promises to do. ‘An American is willing to trust until someone proves to be untrustworthy,’ Shahar said. ‘Israel is much more like the rest of the world, where the basic assumption is that people . . . should not be trusted until proven trustworthy.

Where I come from, Australia, white people tend to trust each other, particularly in rural Australia. The most important thing is to have a reputation for honesty and if you cheat, you certainly don’t boast about it.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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