Over the weekend I saw Captain America: Civil War, and politically it was the most Israeli movie I’ve ever seen. The latest Marvel unit had nothing to offer in the way of visuals, dialogue, or acting (save for Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark and Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa), but thematically it was fascinating and even a bit gray. Surprisingly, the film’s motifs of sovereignty, oversight, and the use of power mirrored Israel’s own areas of self-examination.
Climactic explosions and battles and ensuing guilt from the past slew of Marvel movies culminate into Civil War’s main question: should the team of superheroes known as the Avengers continue to make mission decisions on their own, or should they permit themselves to be supervised by the United Nations? Tony Stark and a few others would say yes, external management of the Avengers is necessary. An American and vaguely villainous Secretary of State named Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) presents a creamy official-looking book of regulations known as the Sokovia Accords (lol) that is up for a vote the very next day- somehow this is news to the Avengers present, none of whom were even aware that such a debate was going on, let alone that laws concerning them were being drafted.
Anyway, the live-action cartoons do a decent job of parsing the pros and cons of both sides: Captain America (Chris Evans) does not contend that the Avengers are infallible, but he is wary of submitting himself and his friends to an panel of international members, members who will inevitably come to any situation with agendas of their own. He worries that the panel will force the Avengers to take on missions they may not want to, and forbid them from some missions the Avengers may think are worthy. Oversight, Captain America argues, does not actually promote responsibility or save more lives- it just shifts part of the blame to the UN. Perhaps this eases the conscience of a few of the Avengers, that whatever happens won’t be entirely their fault, that there was an expert panel who also thought superhero intervention would be a good idea. Captain America, meanwhile, believes he and his colleagues can withstand the aftermath of their actions (which almost always destroy entire streets and buildings and enough cars to keep Ford in business) because of their overall desire to keep the world and its inhabitants safe. Dead people are regrettable, but, as Captain American explains to the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), if they dwell too long on innocent casualties, they will become too paralyzed to save anyone at all.
With his line of thinking and spare time, Captain America could also be Israel’s ambassador to the UN. Many Israelis, citizens and politicians alike, are suspicious of the international body’s motives. Why, for instance, is the UN so fixated on Israel when there are many governments that are much, much worse? At the 2015 UN General Assembly session alone, according to UN Watch, twenty resolutions critical of Israel were adopted. Only three other resolutions were discussed, and those concerned Syria, North Korea, and Iran. Supporting Captain America’s points that no panel can ever be truly objective and benign, some of the countries that move to condemn Israel in the UN are among those notorious for trampling on human rights. Many European states also typically elect to sanction Israel in the UN, thinking that the IDF and the Israeli government inflict force upon the Gaza Strip that is disproportional to the Hamas rockets originating from there. Can it really be called a fair fight if a thousand innocent Gazans died in Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and less than ten civilians in Israel?
That’s a difficult question to answer, one that whole books have been written about, yet critics should take care to consider that Israel did try to minimize innocent casualties, and that Hamas wasn’t exactly looking out for its people when it launched rockets from civilian centers and neglected to build bomb shelters.
Mr. Stark and the UN panel might counter that they don’t think Israel has bad intentions to kill civilians, but rather made poor decisions in wartime (is it worth demolishing an entire apartment building for a few Hamas members who may or not be present?) A panel could possibly better analyze which targets should be hit, and mistaken bombings of schools and shelters in Gaza could then be avoided. The implications of handing over control of the IDF to a UN group (this is just hypothetical, by the way) though is that they might restrain Israel in ways that are harmful, and the UN could also accidentally choose the wrong enemy targets. This is why no country allows outsider entities to draw up their military plans for them. Israel, however, is one of the few if not the only nation who is treated as child that has been given too much power and needs to be called into timeout for protecting itself.
Major aside: why is the audience supposed to be swept away by the friendship between Captain America and Bucky (Sebastian Stan)? They never smile together and their only connection consists of remembering that as kids they used their subway money for buying hot dogs. Other than their childhood they have nothing new to talk about, which is probably why Captain America was cool with Bucky going away via some nitrogen-ice-preservation machine.
Back to the main plot (lol) and Israel. The movie seems to overall sympathize with the independent position of Captain America- it is his movie after all. In addition to the creepy Secretary of State, everyone else associated with the UN seems scary and robotic. Here the UN wants to control the world, not make it safer. Not a lot of energy is spent either to generate empathy with the innocent people who have died because of the Avengers; true, a close-up is shown of a dead child lying in the rubble in Lagos, but other than that we don’t hear any testimonials from remaining family members nor learn about any individual victims. We only feed sad because the Avengers feel sad. And if they can get over it, well, so should everyone else.
While Israel names every lost soldier on television every Yom Hazikaron, it is doubtful that many Israelis can name any children who have lost their lives in Gaza over the years. Alienated from our victims, we find it easy to be strong as we can be, instead of strong as we should be. The cost-benefit analysis framework in the Marvel universe is almost wholly concerned with the benefits, as the costs are usually forgotten by the next installment. Countries in real universes act this way too sometimes.
Ultimately, the idea of giving up control appears to be untenable. No one else will have your best interests at heart, and most international delegations are inefficient. A perfect and objective political being that is higher than nation-states does not exist, which is why enforcing international law is such a struggle. Captain America’s stance is slightly extreme, too, so I would suggest a compromise that already exists in Israel. Groups like Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem try to hold the IDF and the Israeli government in check, which should be embraced, because one should have nothing to fear if they are trying to do the right thing. Accountability creates room for improvement, and should not be viewed as an attack, and consequences, which Captain American wrongfully disdains, encourage reflection and caution.
The film’s ending is ambiguous, with both sides refusing to give in, and hopeful, because the friendship between Iron Man and Captain America promises to unite them soon enough. Likewise, the left and right in Israel disagree vehemently on so many things, yet still there remains a sense that will stay together, for the sake of their country. Tearing each other part, Captain America: Civil War shows, only plays into the hands of the real enemies.