Marvel to modify Israeli superhero after anti-Zionist backlash

Superheroine ‘Sabra’ will be much different to her comic book counterpart in the fourth Captain America film.

 Left: Marvel superhero Sabra as she appears in the comics. RIGHT: Israeli actress Shira Haas (photo credit: FLASH90, WIKIPEDIA)
Left: Marvel superhero Sabra as she appears in the comics. RIGHT: Israeli actress Shira Haas
(photo credit: FLASH90, WIKIPEDIA)

Following Israeli actress Shira Haas’s casting as the Israeli superheroine and Mossad agent “Sabra” to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) last week, many took to social media with anti-Zionist posts, expressing outrage at the Israeli hero’s live-action debut.

Pro-Israel supporters rejoiced at the inclusion of an Israeli superhero in a Hollywood film, while anti-Israel social media users expressed disappointment. “#CaptainApartheid” also began trending on social media shortly after the casting, the New York Times reported.

“While our characters and stories are inspired by the comics, they are always freshly imagined for the screen and today’s audience,” Marvel Studios told Variety and CNN in response. “The filmmakers are taking a new approach with the character Sabra, who was first introduced in the comics over 40 years ago.”

With Sabra’s debut in the film, she would be considered one of the first mutants to appear in the MCU. Her real identity is Ruth Bat-Seraph.

“The filmmakers are taking a new approach with the character Sabra, who was first introduced in the comics over 40 years ago.”

Marvel Studios

Sabra and Shatila massacre

Many anti-Zionists on social media stated that Marvel bought into Zionist propaganda, promotes the dehumanization of Palestinians, supports Israeli occupation and have alleged that the Israeli superheroine is named after the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut, Lebanon.

This week in history: the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon  (credit: REUTERS)This week in history: the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon (credit: REUTERS)

The massacre centered on two Palestinian camps in Lebanon called Sabra and Shatila. In September 1982, thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese Shiites were murdered in these camps by the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia during the 1982 Lebanon War.

The Phalangists were initially allies of Israel to fight against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in order to stop attacks by them on northern Israel from Lebanon’s south. Israeli forces entered Lebanon with the intention of rooting out PLO fighters but were not present when the massacre took place.

The Phalangists committed these massacres as revenge for the assassination of then-Lebanese President Bachir Gemayel, who was assassinated two days prior.

What does the massacre have to do with the Marvel character?

Critics accused Marvel of “being insensitive to the link between the Israeli superhero’s name and that of the refugee camp,” the Times reported. Haas’s casting was announced one week before the 40th anniversary of the tragedy and Marvel was criticized for the timing of the announcement, as the word represents a tragic time in the Arab world.

The NGO, pro-Palestinian organization Institute for Middle East Understanding wrote on Twitter last week that the casting was promoting Israel’s violence against Palestinians and enabling the continued oppression of millions of Palestinians living under Israel’s authoritarian military rule.

One post that went viral on Twitter among various anti-Zionist tweets stated that “Israel’s Marvel superhero Sabra has many powers, including demolishing Palestinian homes with her mind and assassinating Palestinian children with her laser beam eyes.”

Another post said, “I don’t think y’all understand how disgusting it is that an Israeli superhero and hummus brand are called ‘Sabra’ because they’re named after the massacre where Palestinians in a Lebanese refugee camp were brutally tortured and killed and Israel is PROUD of this.”

What Sabra is really named after

However, it should be noted that Sabra being named after the 1982 massacre is impossible because Sabra made her debut two years prior in the 1980 Incredible Hulk comic series.

The Sabra character was actually named after a term that describes any Jewish person born in Israel and also comes from “tsabar,” the Hebrew name of a cactus fruit – a representation of Israel that it’s tough on the outside but sweet on the inside.

More backlash

Other Twitter users shared a recurring page from the 1981 Hulk issue "Power and Peril in the Promised Land" where the Hulk shows anger towards the Israeli character for initially showing little remorse over the death of an Arab boy.

“Boy died because boy’s people and yours both want to own land! Boy died because you wouldn’t share!” Hulk tells Sabra.

A report by CNN also states that Sabra fought against offensive Arab stereotypes in the comics and critics have shown concern that such stereotypes could be shown on the big screen. One Sabra comic saw the superheroine’s son, Jacob, killed by Palestinian terrorists who attacked a school bus, i24 reported.

Etgar Keret, an Israeli graphic novelist and author told CNN that the Israeli hero was created in a different time with a simpler story. “This Sabra was created before two [Palestinian] Intifadas, it was created before the failing of the Oslo Accords. It was created in a totally different reality and state of mind.”

Was the Israeli hero plagiarized from a different character?

The introduction of Sabra also garnered controversy from Israeli comic book artist and writer Uri Fink, who told i24 News that Marvel stole his idea for the Sabra character.

Fink created a character called Sabraman as a teenager alongside publisher David Herman in 1978, two years before the 80’s Incredible Hulk comic run. Sabraman’s parents were killed in the Holocaust and he moves to Israel shortly after the Second World War.

“Same as Sabra, [Sabraman] was also a super agent of the government,” Fink said. “The thing is, I don’t claim she’s a rip-off. I’m sure the name Sabra was inspired by Sabraman.”

Fink also stated that his creation was also to appeal to the Jewish communities in the United States as well as Israeli audiences, so Sabraman’s stories were published in English and Hebrew. When asked if he would sue Marvel over the character, Fink said that he would not have any case in which to sue them and said that Sabra is a completely different character with different powers – only that they used the same name.

Fink tweeted following Haas’s casting that he talked Herman out of suing Marvel back in 1980 because they had no chance against Marvel’s fleet of lawyers nor is there any copyright on the word “Sabra.”

Other criticisms of ‘Captain America: New World Order’

Surprisingly, there were other criticisms targeted towards the film’s title in which Sabra will appear – with many saying that is antisemitic.

“New World Order” is a conspiracy theory that theorizes a secretly emerging totalitarian world government.

The pro-Israel and Jewish advocacy group American Jewish Committee states on its website: “The New World Order conspiracy theory becomes antisemitic when it’s followed by a reference to a Jewish business leader or political official with a secret agenda who’s seeking global control.

“The conspiracy theory behind the New World Order involving Jewish leaders is based on the idea that Jews have formed a power structure in which they control every aspect of humankind – the economy, media, and political landscape,” the organization added.

Haas’s casting for the film was announced alongside Jewish actor Tim Blake Nelson, who is reprising his 2008 Incredible Hulk role as The Leader. Therefore, social media users noted that having a Jewish actor be the villain of a movie with the title “New World Order” is antisemitic.

Will this film have a positive or negative portrayal of Israel?

Several pro-Israel social media users noted that having an Israeli superhero will not necessarily mean that the film will paint a positive portrayal of Israel. Even Uri Fink recommended to “keep an eye out to see how exactly Sabra is portrayed in these movies,” citing that Marvel and Disney are very “progressive.”

However, in contrast, experts say that Sabra’s live-action debut will be a public relations win for Mossad, as the character used to be an agent working for them.

Avner Avraham, a former Mossad officer and founder of the Spy Legends Agency (which offers consultations on portraying Israeli spies), said that the portrayal will help younger generations learn about the Israeli agency, CNN reported but he shares Fink’s concern that the Israeli hero on the big screen could be vilified.

The screenplay for Captain America: New World Order has yet to be finalized, according to Variety. The film is slated for release in May 2024.