Background Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) has been repeatedly shown to be very prevalent in the Western society and is characterized by low self-esteem, pessimism, procrastination and also perfectionism. Very few studies on SAD have been done in the Middle East or in Arab countries, and no study tackled the relationship between social anxiety symptoms and perfectionism in non-Western samples. Methods We examined social anxiety symptoms and perfectionism in a group of 132 Israeli Jewish (IJ) and Israeli Arab (IA) students. Subjects completed the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS), the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS), the Negative Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire (ATQ-N), the Positive Automatic Thoughts Questionnaire (ATQ-P) and a socio-demographic questionnaire. Results The rate of SAD in our sample according to a LSAS score of 60 or more was 17.2% (IJ = 13.8%, IA = 19%, ns). The correlation between perfectionism and the LSAS was high in both groups, and in particular in the IJ group. The IA group had higher scores of social avoidance, of ATQ-P and of two of the MPS subscales: parental expectations and parental criticism. Concern over mistakes and negative automatic thoughts positively predicted social fear in the IJ group, whereas in the IA group being female, religious and less educated positively predicted social fear. Negative automatic thoughts and age positively predicted social avoidance in the IJ group. In general, the IJ and IA subjects showed higher social anxiety, higher ATQ-N scores and lower parental expectations as compared with non-clinical US samples. Conclusions Social anxiety symptoms and perfectionism are prevalent in Arab and Jewish students in Israel and seem to be closely related. Further studies among non-western minority groups may detect cultural influences on social anxiety and might add to the growing body of knowledge on this intriguing condition.