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September 19, 2022 11:10 am
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Has Marvel Surrendered to Anti-Israel Pressure After Introducing Israeli Superhero?

avatar by Chaim Lax

Opinion

Shira Haas. Photo: Zohar Jacobson via Wikimedia Commons.

Marvel Studios announced over the weekend that it would take a “new approach” to the Israeli superhero Sabra, after coming under fire from anti-Israel pundits and social media warriors, who opposed the inclusion of a proud Israeli superhero in the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU).

As was initially reported last week, Marvel 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.

Initially, Marvel’s announcement was only picked up by Israeli media outlets and 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 comments, “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.”

A few days after both Israeli and entertainment news sites picked up the story, mainstream media outlets around the world also started focusing on the addition of Sabra to the MCU.

Rather than focusing on the diversity that both Sabra and Shira Haas will bring to Marvel, both CNN and The Independent concentrated on the negative reaction from some anti-Israel commentators.

In both pieces, the writers focus on the claim that the inclusion of Sabra (who fights for Israel’s existence against external enemies) might lead to negative stereotyping of Arabs and Palestinians.

In addition, CNN cited an analyst who claimed that the addition of Sabra is “disgraceful,” while The Independent called it “a provocative move.”

The Independent even went so far as to write that, “If Marvel wanted to be truly politically balanced, they would tell the story of a Palestinian superhero protecting Arab children from Israeli rockets hitting a Palestinian school or hospital alongside the heroic narratives of Sabra. Of course, the idea seems far-fetched. Away from fiction, any Palestinians trying to defend themselves, even non-violently, are often labeled terrorists.”

While it is still unclear what Sabra’s role will be in the next Captain America film, which is not set to hit theaters until 2024, or whether she will appear in other Marvel movies, it is encouraging to see such a large movie franchise welcome the first Israel-born superhero — along with an Israeli actress — into their ranks.

Hopefully, Marvel’s “new approach” to Sabra will embrace this character diversity and will not drastically transform the character in order to appease the loud voices of anti-Israeli pundits and keyboard warriors.

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.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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