Calling into question prevailing notions about Orientalism, Yaron Peleg shows how the paradoxical mixture of exoticism and familiarity with which Jews related to Palestine at the beginning of the twentieth century shaped the legacy of Zionism. In Peleg's view, the tension between romancing the East and colonizing it inspired a revolutionary reform that radically changed Jewish thought during the Hebrew Revival that took place between 1900 and 1930.
Orientalism and the Hebrew Imagination introduces a fresh voice to the contentious debate over the concept of Orientalism. Zionism has often been labeled a Western colonial movement that sought to displace and silence Palestinian Arabs. Based on his readings of key texts, Peleg asserts that early Zionists were inspired by Palestinian Arab culture, which in turn helped mold modern Jewish gender, identity, and culture.
Peleg begins with the new ways in which the lands of the Bible are formulated as a modern "Orient" in David Frishman's Bamidbar. He continues by showing how in The Sons of Arabia, Moshe Smilansky laid the basis for the literary construction of the "New Jew," modeled after Palestinian Arabs. Peleg concludes with a discussion of L. A. Arielli's 1913 play Allah Karim! in which both the promise and the problems of the Land of Israel as "Orient" marked the end of Hebrew Orientalism as a viable cultural option.