East and West in Jewish nationalism: Conflicting types in the Zionist vision?

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This article analyses the ethnic and civic components of the early Zionist movement. The debate over whether Zionism was an Eastern-ethnic nationalist movement or a Western-civic movement began with the birth of Zionism. The article also investigates the conflict that broke out in 1902 surrounding the publication of Herzl's utopian vision, Altneuland. Ahad Ha'am, a leader of Hibbat Zion and 'Eastern' cultural Zionism, sharply attacked Herzl's 'Western' political Zionism, which he considered to be disconnected from the cultural foundations of historical Judaism. Instead, Ahad Ha'am supported the Eastern Zionist utopia of Elchanan Leib Lewinsky. Hans Kohn, a leading researcher of nationalism, distinguished between 'Eastern' and 'Western' nationalist movements. He argued that Herzl's political heritage led the Zionist movement to become an Eastern-ethnic nationalist movement. The debate over the character of Jewish nationalism - ethnic or civic - continues to engage researchers and remains a topic of public debate in Israel even today. As this article demonstrates, the debate between 'Eastern' and 'Western' Zionism has its foundations in the origins of the Zionist movement. A close look at the vision held by both groups challenges Kohn's dichotomy as well as his understanding of the Zionist movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-219
Number of pages19
JournalNations and Nationalism
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Ahad ha'am
  • East and West
  • Ethnic and civic
  • Hans Kohn
  • Israel
  • Nationalism
  • Teodor Herzl
  • Zionism


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