Around 50 years before the creation of the state of Israel, British explorer and diplomat Richard F. Burton wrote in his book The Jew, the Gypsy, and El-Islam about the concept of a Jewish state in the holy land, which was being proposed by the emerging Zionist movement at the time.
He predicted – in terms that may today be controversial with its stereotypes – that the Jew “would hasten to fulfil the prophecy; he would buy up the country [Palestine], as indeed he is now doing at Jerusalem; he would conquer the people by capital, and he would once more form a nation.” Burton asked himself, though, “How long could it endure?”
Going through a list of Talmudic restrictions and measures which he pointed out as controversial if practiced by that new Jewish state, he then went on to say that, “Such conditions, it is evident, are not calculated to create or to preserve national life. The civilised world would never endure the presence of a creed which says to man, ‘Hate thy neighbour [Arabs] unless he be one of ye [Jews]’.”
Burton predicted that: “A year of such spectacles would more than suffice to excite the wrath and revenge of outraged humanity; the race [Jews], cruel, fierce, dogged, and desperate as in the days of Titus and Hadrian, would defend itself to the last; the result would be another siege and capture of Jerusalem, and the ‘Chosen People’ would once more lie prostrate in their blood and be stamped out of the Holy Land.”
Looking back on what Burton said – around 125 years later and more than half of that in the lifetime of the Zionist state of Israel – there were two main errors in his predictions. The first was that he failed to take into account the predominance of secular, non-practicing and even atheist Jews within the Western world at the time and in this future Jewish state. Moreover, he did not realise that leftist and socialist elements would come to dominate Israel’s body politic during the first few decades of its existence, yet it would admittedly have been difficult to foresee that prior to Russia’s 1917 communist revolution and the spread of socialist thought throughout the world.
Although Israel did not turn out to be the theocratic state that he thought it would be, however, the ideology of Zionism has predictably dominated the country’s political system and – even after almost eight decades – has not tempered itself into a more moderate, reasonable and moral form. Particularly after the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition of extreme far-right parties and figures, Israel has only revived and refreshed its hatred for its neighbours, strengthening its apartheid and become the very hate-filled entity which Burton predicted.
The second error he made was in believing that the international community — the “civilised world” — would not tolerate the rabid behaviour of this new state and that Israel would fail to integrate into this community of nations. Not only has Tel Aviv managed to embed itself in the international community, but throughout its existence it has also successfully gained the unconditional backing of and unshakable alliances with the United States, Britain and most of the Western world.
Israel… has maintained Western backing through endless massacres and war crimes
Having become practically inseparable from the Anglo-American and Atlanticist establishment, Israel has persisted far beyond its first year; has maintained Western backing through endless massacres and war crimes; has managed to deflect international attention away from countless human rights violations and the breaking of international law; and has maintained an occupation and apartheid system, all while gaining sympathy as the supposed victim in all of this.
Israel has achieved the unthinkable, and has surpassed Burton’s expectations of such a state’s downfall. But that may now be changing.
The great awakening
Amid Israel’s latest and ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip, which has devolved into a ground invasion very different from the many bombardments of the territory in previous years, the international community has gained a new awareness of the situation at an unprecedented level compared with all prior conflicts and decades.
While Israel’s crimes were revealed to people in the West over the past decade, the 2023 Israeli assault on Gaza has expanded the number made aware by tens of millions, largely owing to social media and the successful utilisation of platforms by civilians, journalists and resistance groups. They have an enormous amount of material to work with, and they have no need to fake, stage or exaggerate their situation: Israel has made it so easy; all social media users in Gaza need to do is take out their phones or cameras and record their situation and surroundings.
The Israeli authorities, citizens and pundits, however, have not had it so easy on the propaganda front. This is evident from civilians filming themselves lying on the ground as if bombs are falling despite being outside with other pedestrians walking by; the military posting on social media recordings of alleged Hamas fighters “admitting” that they accidentally bombed Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital (Israeli forces did that); commentator Ben Shapiro posting an AI-generated picture to “prove” Palestinian fighters beheaded and burned Israeli babies; and Israeli figures posting a video of an alleged nurse at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital “revealing” that Hamas is stealing all the supplies and fuel for themselves, while speaking in a heavy Hebrew accent with poor Arabic in a dialect foreign to the local Palestinians in Gaza.
Tel Aviv and its supporters have had to make up stories as they go along, in order to contribute to a deceptive narrative which may be the largest and most expansive state-sponsored disinformation campaign in history, perhaps even bigger than Russia’s over the years.
We must not fall into the illusion that Israel is losing the support of its powerful backers on the world stage as a result of this. The occupation state still provides benefit to and derives benefit from the Anglo-American establishment and their infamous alliance, and there is no notable or significant shift amongst Western policymakers in their positions on Israel. We mustn’t expect to see Western states ever abandon outright support for Tel Aviv, or even restrict and make it conditional; at least not in the near future.
Zionism: death or reformation?
What we may be witnessing, though, is the beginning of the end of Zionism. Yes, the ideology remains strong within Israel, both in its politics and its populace, and Western political figures and candidates are still required to express their commitment to the ideology if they aim to take public office of some kind. But the hold of Zionism’s tenets – support for the so-called Jewish state, backing of its “right” to “self-defence”, and the Jewish people’s supposedly inherent right to “reclaim” their ancient land at the cost of a Palestinian genocide and ethnic cleansing – is weakening dramatically amongst people across the Western world.
Many average citizens, journalists and figures from all walks of life who may previously have either leant towards support for Israel, sat on the fence or were entirely neutral on the issue are now shocked by what they see. With almost eight decades of wilful ignorance to overcome, they are only now doing due diligence and research on the issue. And there is plenty to go through; the evidence is inescapable, shocking — not least Israel’s obvious and deadly disdain for Palestinian life and the basic humanity of the people — and life-changing. The multi-faith and multi-racial makeup of the pro-Palestine marches in London and around the world is testimony to this fact.
Cracks in the official Zionist narrative are growing, and the ideology is being seen for what it is; a pernicious threat to world peace.
Rather than the claim that Israel “has a right to defend itself” parroted by politicians and media alike, people are beginning to understand that it is not simply “like any other country”; that it is an occupier and oppressor; and that its “self-defence” is claimed against the occupied and oppressed who take up arms — legitimately, under international law — and resist the occupation. Moreover, it is becoming clearer that Israel has never declared where its official borders lie, because it hasn’t finished its occupation yet. “Greater Israel” is the objective of Zionism; from the River Euphrates to the River Nile, claim Zionists, all belongs to the Jewish people.
As with the followers of any ideology, of course, Zionists differ in their methods, strategies and morality. Some may support more peaceful means of claiming territory and are willing to make compromises and concessions, while others aim to do away with any pretence and work to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population. Genocide is indeed their aim if all else fails. In its raw form, though, Zionism remains an ideology which is expansionist, exclusivist, supremacist and inherently aggressive.
This is becoming clearer by the day, with Netanyahu indicating Israel’s intention to occupy Gaza indefinitely and forbid any Palestinian government there in the future; former Shin Bet head and Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter admitting that Israel is now “rolling out the Gaza Nakba”; and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant threatening to invade Lebanon by saying “What we do in Gaza we know how to do in Beirut.”
It is high time, I believe, for Zionist thinkers and intellectuals to reform their ideology and its aims, if peace in the region is ever to be a reality. The international community must grasp the Zionist nettle and insist on this if the Zionist state is to be accepted; this includes its full compliance with international laws and conventions. They must also seek to rein-in the far-right extremists within the Zionist ranks.
Just as “Islamists” are aware of their own extremist elements and seek to counter them with relative success – and this is a poor example as they remain loosely-defined and few openly label themselves as such – so must Zionists do the same. And just as Islamist thought and political practice have generally evolved over the decades, Zionism must do the same. If it fails to do so, the ideology will collapse in the court of global public opinion, and be left to the fringe extremists in Israel and abroad.
It is rare for public opinion to alter state policies effectively, at least in a significant way, and governments are content with allowing protests to let the people blow off some steam. Yet in a mass awakening to an issue important enough as genocide, it is possible for overwhelming public pressure to change the course of any governments’ foreign policy towards Israel. Now that the Zionist narrative is collapsing in the eyes of the Western public, the ideology itself is facing the greatest threat to its existence. Israel’s genocide in Gaza may well lead to the downfall of Zionism as we know it.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.