Anti-Israel activists erupted in anger following Marvel Studio’s announcement that Shira Haaas, known for her role in the popular Hebrew-language Netflix show Shtisel, will play Israeli superhero ‘Sabra‘ (aka, Ruth Bat-Seraph) in the upcoming “Captain America” movie. Sabra, who’s a Mossad agent and police officer with superhuman speed and strength, debuted for Marvel in a 1980 ‘Incredible Hulk’ comic.
Though Marvel responded to criticism by vowing to re-evaluate their portrayal of the Jewish Israeli character, that announcement came a couple of days after Indy contributor Ahmed Twaij’s op-ed on the subject.
Twaij’s notes the following:
Indeed, for Palestinians, just the new superhero’s name of Sabra is controversial, reminiscent as it is of the Sabra and Shatila massacre (which witnesses its 40th anniversary this week.)
It’s not clear if the writer knows the origin of the word Sabra, but the Board of Deputies’ Daniel Sugarman responded to similar criticism.
Something I never thought I'd tweet, but Marvel calling an Israeli superhero "Sabra" is because Jews born in the region have been referred to as "Sabras" (a local fruit, prickly on the outside, soft on the inside) since the 30s. It's not referencing the Sabra & Shatila massacre. pic.twitter.com/gryr7UIj03
— Daniel Sugarman (@Daniel_Sugarman) September 12, 2022
Twaij also complains that, though he doesn’t know how Sabra will be portrayed in the film, in its comic history, the character “fights enemies across Israel who – you can probably guess – are Arab terrorists”, imputing something racist about a Mossad agent busying herself trying to sabotage the plans of Palestinian extremists.
He then observes, in that context, that “In Jack Shaheen’s book Reel Bad Arabs, of the thousands of films [he] analysed between 1986 and 2000, only 12 Arab characters had positive roles compared to the colossal 935 negative portrayals”. However, Twaij omits a follow-up study by the same author which found that, counter-intuitively, after the jihadist attacks on 9/11, there was a major increase in positive portrayals of Arab film characters.
For millions of Palestinians, Israeli security forces and intelligence agencies are symbols of fear, oppression and violence… From forced evictions to implementing an apartheid system, the way in which Israel treats its Palestinian neighbours – and its citizens of Palestinian origin – continues to be deeply problematic.…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.