Move Over Gal Gadot, There’s a New Israeli Superhero in Town
Comics giant Marvel recently announced at the Walt Disney D23 Expo that the much-anticipated fourth installment of the Captain America movie series, titled “Captain America: New World Order,” will feature Israeli actress Shira Haas in the role of Sabra, an Israeli superhero who first appeared in the pages of “The Incredible Hulk” in 1980.
Haas, the first Israeli to ever be nominated for an Emmy Award, is known both in Israel and around the world for her roles in the Netflix series “Shtisel” and “Unorthodox.”
In the Marvel comics, Sabra is the alias for Ruth Bat-Seraph, an Israeli mutant who serves as a member of the Israeli Police and also secretly works for the Mossad, Israel’s famed spy agency.
Usually adorned in an outfit boasting a Star of David, Sabra’s superpowers include superhuman strength, agility, stamina, and the ability to revive people by transferring her life energy to them.
Over the past 40 years, Sabra has fought against the Hulk — who she originally suspected of cooperating with Arab terrorists — and Captain Britain, while teaming up with both the X-Men and Spiderman.
Soon after Marvel’s announcement, both the entertainment industry and the world of Israel-related journalism were buzzing with the news that the next installment of the Captain America franchise would not only feature Marvel’s first Israel-born superhero, but that the role would be portrayed by a famous Israeli actress.
While the story has yet to be picked up by some major mainstream media outlets outside of Israel, it has gained widespread attention on news sites devoted to entertainment, comics, and celebrities.
Some sites, such as Variety, Screen Crush, and Deadline, published neutral accounts of Marvel’s announcement, while the entertainment news site Wiki of Nerds gave a fairly positive appraisal, writing that, “While we do not yet know how Sabra will be involved in Captain America: New World Order, she will definitely be a great addition.”
Meanwhile, a noteworthy critique of Marvel’s announcement was made by Benny Stein in an article he wrote for entertainment site The Direct. After citing Marvel fans who are opposed to the inclusion of Sabra in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Stein claimed that “Sabra has an extremely troubling history. Past depictions of the character show clear biases that distort the issue in favor of racist and arbitrary attitudes…”
Further on, Stein quips that “Sabra’s ties to the Israeli government in the comics effectively sanction a whole host of grim behaviors.”
Near the end of his piece, he writes: “Additionally, this kind of representation is also complicated for those who share Sabra’s Jewish identity. Inherently linking perhaps the most prominent example of Judaism within the MCU…to the Israeli government may solidify beliefs about Judaism and Zionism that have proven hard to disentangle.”
Unsurprisingly, social media was also divided on the inclusion of an Israeli superhero in the Marvel universe.
Marvel’s announcement was warmly received by pro-Israel voices on Twitter (see here, here, and here), with one post even quipping that “Sabra’s powers include super-strength, speed agility, and if I had to guess, the ability to make excellent hummus.”
On the lighter side of Israeli criticism, the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz snarkily tweeted, “Just to dispel rumors, the character’s name will not be Captain Occupation,” while later clarifying that “Haaretz’s Twitter account is genuinely happy for Shira Haas and wishes her mazel tov for her role as Sabra.”
For anti-Israel Twitter users, the news was most unwelcome, with the anti-Israel publication Mondoweiss tweeting, “No. No no no no. No,” while the Palestine Online account queried, “What do you think her superpowers are? Massacring Palestinians or destroying their homes leaving them homeless?”
Some anti-Israel tweeters even went so far as to claim that the name “Sabra” was a reference to the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre — committed by Lebanese Phalangists but blamed on Israel — even though the comic predated the events by two years. In fact, the name “Sabra” actually refers to native-born Israelis.
Will Sabra Get the “Wonder Woman” Treatment?
While Sabra is the first Israeli-born superhero to appear on the big screen, Shira Haas is not the first Israeli actress to portray a superhero. That achievement, of course, belongs to Gal Gadot, who portrayed Wonder Woman in a number of blockbuster DC films.
However, Gadot’s portrayal of the Amazon princess was not without controversy.
Upon the release of “Wonder Woman” in 2017, a number of Arab countries (including Lebanon, Tunisia, Kuwait, and Qatar) banned the film, due to its star being an Israeli citizen.
While some analysts have opined that “Wonder Woman” was banned due to Gadot’s being a veteran of the IDF and her vocal support of both Israel and the Israeli army, one of the members of the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel in Lebanon (which spearheaded the push against the movie) claimed that the boycott was due to Gadot being Israeli and “We don’t distinguish between a good Israeli and a bad Israeli.”
Notably, Wonder Woman’s 2020 sequel “Wonder Woman 1984“ did not garner the same opposition as the original movie, but Gadot’s 2022 appearance in “Death on the Nile” did lead to it being banned in both Lebanon and Kuwait.
So, will Sabra face the same boycott efforts as Wonder Woman did?
While it might be too early to tell, it is not hard to believe that a film starring an Israeli actress portraying an Israeli superhero who proudly works on behalf of the Jewish state will garner some pushback, particularly in countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Will the Hulk Get Angry?: Mark Ruffalo & His Animosity Towards Israel
Ruffalo, who has portrayed the Hulk since 2012, has a history of anti-Israel activism, including claiming that Israel is practicing “apartheid” and vocally supporting Palestinian organizations that Israel has deemed to have terrorist connections.
During the 2021 war between Israel and Hamas, Ruffalo claimed that the Jewish state was committing “genocide” in Gaza, although he later apologized for this.
With the addition of Sabra to the MCU, will Mark Ruffalo openly welcome Shira Haas? Or will the Hulk smash all efforts at dialogue and teamwork? Only time will tell…
The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.