Israeli comic book hero appears in Marvel movie; excitement – and backlash – comes fast
In a move that is already exciting some Jewish audiences and sparking controversy among other international fans and activists, Marvel Studios has announced that an Israeli comic book hero will appear in the next installment of its Captain America film franchise.
‘Captain America: New World Order,’ slated for release in 2024, will star Israeli actress Shira Haas as Sabra, a hero who debuted with a cameo in an ‘Incredible Hulk’ comic book. from 1980 and appeared as a full character the following year. in a comic in Israel titled “Incredible Hulk: Power in the Promised Land!”
Since details of Marvel projects are kept under wraps until release, it’s unclear how much Haas’s character, the first Israeli to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, will be in the film. Between 1980 and 2019, Sabra appeared in 50 issues, according to a Marvel fandom page.
Sabra (also the word for an Israeli prickly pear, which has a spiky exterior and a soft, sweet interior, and is used as a nickname for an Israeli person) is a Mossad agent and police officer with speed and strength. superhuman. The 1981 comic that first features her involves several quotes and plot points that would be considered taboo in a contemporary Hollywood blockbuster.
In the comic, the Incredible Hulk mistakenly ends up in Tel Aviv, where he befriends an Arab boy who is killed in an attack by identifiable Arab terrorists. Sabra – real name Ruth Bat-Seraph – witnesses the attack and assumes the Hulk is in cahoots with the terrorists. She attacks Hulk with “energy quills”, weakening him, but Hulk explains that the boy was his friend and references the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The boy died because this boy’s people and your people want to own land!” Hulk said to Sabra. “The boy died because you didn’t want to share. The boy died because of two old books that say his people and yours must fight and kill for the land!”
The character’s introduction first announced at Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim has already garnered some backlash online. Some on social media have argued that the character is an example of Israeli military propaganda or used it to criticize the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians.
Several others have taken issue with the character’s name, which they say is painful for Palestinians, who associate the word “sabra” with the former refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in west Beirut. During the 1982 Lebanese Civil War, right-wing Lebanese forces murdered up to thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims in the camps, while Israeli military forces surrounded the areas; an Israeli investigation found that Ariel Sharon, as defense minister, bore “personal responsibility” for failing to take steps to prevent the massacre.
Others push back against the criticism and argue that the character debuted two years before the Sabra and Shatila murders.
An Israeli cartoonist who years before Marvel created a character called Sabraman, who like Sabra sports an Israeli-themed blue and white outfit, has accused the comics giant of plagiarism.
The cartoonist, Uri Fink, issued a warning to Haas in a recent interview with the Israeli site Ynet.
“I don’t predict his portrayal in Marvel will be positive in days like these,” he said, according to The Times of Israel. “Those who work at Marvel today are all kinds of progressives. I have nothing against them, but we won’t get the most accurate depiction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I suggest that Shira carefully read [the script]so that the character is not portrayed in an overly problematic way,” he added.
Israeli producer Avi Arad, co-founder and former head of Marvel Studios, the comic book company’s film arm that has grossed more than $25 billion at the box office, said in 2012 that he would not wasn’t expecting to see Sabra on the big screen anytime soon.
“We are now in a time where the name ‘Sabra’… it’s not very good for selling a film in international markets,” he told The Times of Israel.
Haas was the first Israeli to be nominated for an Emmy, for her role in “Unorthodox,” the Netflix miniseries based on Deborah Feldman’s autobiography about leaving the Orthodox Satmar Haredi community in Brooklyn. Little Haas – who is about 5ft 2in, having survived a first bout of cancer which stunted her growth – also appeared in ‘Shtisel’ and was recently tapped to play a detective in a new series of Netflix murder mysteries.
This won’t be the first time a Jewish character has appeared in an on-screen Marvel product. “Moon Knight,” the Disney+ miniseries that premiered in March, stars Oscar Isaac as the protagonist, who is Jewish.
But several fans are also expressing surprise and excitement at the choice to resurrect a distinctly Israeli hero for a mainstream movie.