At the D23 Expo this week, Marvel announced that “Captain America: New World Order” will feature Sabra, an Israeli superhero, to be played by Shira Haas. And, naturally, journalists began highlighting voices of progressive “anti-Zionists” with negligible social media followings to gin up controversy (most of the Twitter accounts numbered in hundreds; though Vulture did find one person with 2,000.) “Marvel’s new Israeli forces superhero Sabra is beyond problematic” says The Independent. “Though we know little about Sabra’s storyline in the Captain America franchise, we know the comics from which Sabra originates and the enemies who she usually fights.”
It only takes a quick bit of research to learn Sabra’s first comic cameo was in “Incredible Hulk” No. 250 in August 1980 and her first full edition was “Incredible Hulk” No. 256 in February 1981—more than a year before the Sabra and Shatila massacre. “Sabra” is slang for a native-born Israeli. First popularized by Jewish author Edna Ferber in her novel “Cimarron” in the late 1920s, the superhero’s name was apparently the idea of Marvel writer Mark Gruenwald’s wife. We should note that Marvel’s founder, Martin Goodman, was Jewish, as was the creator of the Hulk, Stan Lee (Stanley Martin Lieber), and Captain America’s creators Joe Simon (born Hymie Simon) and Jack Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg). But apparently a Jewish superhero is beyond the pale, as it were.
The backlash boils down to accusing Israelis of being colonizers and claiming that name Sabra “is particularly insensitive,” as Vulture put it, because “it calls to mind the Sabra and Shatila massacre.” Does it? Sabra is also the name of a billion-dollar food concern that controls more than 50 percent of the American hummus market. Thoughts and prayers to all of you reminded of 40-year-old factional violence in Lebanon when passing that container of avocado-flavored chickpea dip at the supermarket.
By the way, I have little doubt Marvel is going to use Sabra to teach audiences vacuous lessons on the human condition and Middle East. The comics already did. In “Incredible Hulk” No. 256 — “Power and Peril in the Promised Land!” — the “Hulk finds himself in the crossfire of the Israelis and the Arabs! Will Banner’s compassion for a fallen child soften Sabra’s heart?”
In the comic, Bruce Banner befriends an Arab Israeli boy, who laments the situation in the Holy Land. “Both my people and the Israelis say that this land is theirs. They could share it, but two very old books tell them they must kill each other over it,” the kid tells Banner. Soon, the unfortunate boy is murdered in a terrorist bombing. Hulk smash! When the cold-hearted Sabra, a policewoman named Ruth Bat-Seraph during the day, shows up at the scene, she sees the dead boy — grasping for the first time that Arabs are humans, too! — and erroneously blames the Hulk for the carnage. But before any “circle of violence” allegory can ensue, the Hulk offers his views on the situation. “Boy died because boy’s people & yours both want to own land! Boy died because you wouldn’t share! Boy died because of two old books that say his people & yours must fight and kill for land! Now boy is dead – but boy didn’t even read books!”
Didn’t even read books.
Anyway, an average Marvel fan reading about the backlash over Sabra might be led to believe that Israelis, rather than Maronite Christians, had massacred hundreds of Palestinians in 1982. They may never know that the murders were reprisals for numerous Muslim atrocities against Christians — in particular, the assassination of then-president Bashir Gemayel and two dozen of his followers. They may never know that among the 19 massacres of the Lebanese Civil War, the 1982 killings were far from the worse (in 1976, somewhere up to 5,000 were killed at Tel al-Zaatar by Phalangists) or even the worst to happen at Sabra and Shatila (in 1985, 3,781 people were murdered.) The only reason the 1982 Sabra and Shatila matter is that it could be blamed on Israel.
And, indeed, Israel made a tragic mistake allowing the Phalange to enter Sabra and Shatila, ostensibly to shut down Palestinian terror cells. There was widespread outrage and huge demonstrations in Israel after the incident. The Israeli government set up The Kahan Commission, which found that the army had been indirectly responsible for the massacre because army leaders had failed to foresee the violence. The political fallout would lead to numerous resignations, including that of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. (Can anyone imagine Palestinians taking responsibility for the lives of Israelis in 1982? Or most governments? Even today, Fatah pays bounties for Jewish lives.)
Movies about Israel have been notoriously terrible, both on historical and moral grounds. The worst in recent memory was Steven Spielberg’s insufferably sanctimonious “Munich,” a near-completely fictional retelling of the operation to hunt down the terrorists who murdered Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972. The director reimagined heroes as emotional wrecks who grapple with a bunch of leftist pieties. But what makes these films, and the stupid controversies that surround them, so destructive is that they doubtlessly mislead people otherwise uninterested in history.
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