Marvel’s Israeli superhero is causing a major headache for Disney

At last year’s D23 trade show, Disney announced that a new character would be joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Israeli superhero Sabra.

Debut in 2024 Captain America: New World Order alongside Anthony Mackie, The inclusion of Sabra was controversial from the start. However, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has exacerbated the problem and created more potential pitfalls for the studio.

On October 7, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, which then launched airstrikes on Gaza. According to the Associated Press, as of October 30, at least 1,400 people have been killed in Israel, while more than 8,000 people have been killed in Gaza.

“The Sabra figure, when juxtaposed with Captain America, inevitably reinforces nationalistic and political ideologies and beliefs and could inadvertently increase tensions in the Middle East,” said Deepak Sarma, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. told Newsweek.

Can the controversial figure be portrayed in a way that doesn’t cause a stir?

Marvel's Israeli superhero is a major headache
In “Captain America: New World Order,” the superhero Sabra is played by Israeli actress Shira Haas. The inclusion of Sabra, who debuted alongside Anthony Mackie, was controversial from the start. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has exacerbated the problem and created more potential pitfalls for Disney.

Who is Sabra?

Sabra showed up first The incredible Hulk in 1980. A mutant with enhanced strength and speed, the character is also an agent of the Mossad, the real Israeli secret service. Her real name is Ruth Bat-Seraph, while the codename Sabra means “a person born in Israel.”

In Captain America: New World Order, Sabra is played by Shira Haas. The 28-year-old Israeli actress is best known for her role as Esther Shapiro in the Netflix miniseries UnorthodoxThe focus is on a Hasidic Jewish woman who moves abroad to escape an arranged marriage.

Sabra was originally intended to be an Israeli counterpart to Captain America, and in early editions the Jewish superhero wore a white bodysuit with a blue Star of David. She is trained in hand-to-hand combat and has the power to help others heal faster.

“Of course, given the complexity of nationality and nationalism in the Middle East, Sabra would be viewed as offensive by Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and their supporters,” Sarma said. “But the current conflict is significantly increasing tensions.”

Eliza Jane Schneider, voice actress and activist Freedom of speech The project gives a voice to different backgrounds, agrees.

“It is potentially offensive because highlighting an Israeli superhero, especially an Israeli intelligence counterterrorism agent, at this global level with the wide reach that Marvel has risks further polarization,” she said Newsweek.

“It could be seen as a kind of endorsement and glorification of Israel’s policies by Marvel and the United States.”

Shira Haas in 2021
Sabra is played by Israeli actress Shira Haas, best known for her starring role in the Netflix drama Unorthodox.
Noam Galai/Stringer/Getty Images Entertainment

Why is an Israeli superhero so controversial?

In her first appearance, Sabra attacks the Hulk, who she believes is helping an Arab militant group. When a Palestinian boy gets caught up in the fight between Sabra, the Hulk, and the terrorists and then dies, the Hulk explains, “The boy died because the boy’s people and yours both want to own land!” Boy died because you wouldn’t share!”

Of course, the long-standing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is much more complicated and is just one reason why the source material is controversial.

Although the Palestinian boy’s death supposedly leads to a more compassionate Sabra, the transformation doesn’t last long. Throughout her tenure, Sabra has a negative attitude towards Arab characters, including her fellow superhero Arabian Knight, whose stereotypical portrayal brings with it its own problems.

In the comic New warriors (1995), her motivations are slightly different and less nationalistic, with the character supposedly disliking the Palestinians because her son was killed in a terrorist attack.

Throughout her comic performances, Sabra’s commitment to the Israeli government and the Mossad does not waver. During a particularly grueling fight with Sabra, the Hulk thinks to himself, “I’m not fighting a woman. I’m fighting the Zionist Recruitment Board.”

Sabra’s nationalism is not unique to Marvel Comics. In the 1960s, readers were introduced to Red Guardian – the communist Russian version of Captain America, played by David Harbour Black widow (2021) – while other cultural counterparts include Captain Britain, who was given magical powers by King Arthur’s magical friend Merlin.

David Harbor in Black Widow
David Harbor as Red Guardian in “Black Widow” (2021). Disney could flesh out Sabra’s character so that she is less dependent on offensive stereotypes, as was the case with Red Guardian.

According to Schneider, Marvel could treat Sabra the same way as Red Guardian and develop her into a more complex character that doesn’t rely on stereotypes.

“Perhaps this is an opportunity for a character to experience life and love from both sides of this conflict,” she said.

“The filmmakers could spend the first three-quarters of the film making it unclear which side our beloved, nuanced, flawed, but altruistic new superhero is on – questioning her own loyalties, which are more influenced by universal love and the desire to be all children and civilians on both sides of the conflict, thereby recognizing the inherent value of human life across groups.”

The Sabra controversy is not new

Sabra was already a controversial figure in the 1980s, but the current fighting has brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into focus once again, making her inclusion in the upcoming film even more controversial.

“It is not difficult to imagine protests in cinemas or even a ban on the film in Arab or Muslim countries,” Sarma said.

To balance the character’s controversial history, Schneider hopes Disney will explore Sabra’s positive qualities while developing her relationship with the Israeli government and the Palestinians.

“Sabra has the ability to transfer her life energy to other people, the ability to give other people superpowers and regenerative healing,” she said. “She is in the perfect position to promote love, forgiveness, humanity, peace and positive change.”

Newsweek Disney emailed for comment.