Marvel Comics



Marvel Stumbles on the Question of Palestine

Those who follow the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there are many millions, were recently treated to a surprising announcement. Disney has cast Israeli actress Shira Haas to play a second-tier Israeli character from the comics in the fourth installment of the Captain America franchise, Captain America: New World Order.

Based on the response thus far, it would seem Disney has not just miscalculated this time but done so to an extreme degree. The negative reaction from fans is coming both deep and wide.

Sabra is a Marvel Comics character who is an Israeli mutant, but who also happens to be a Mossad agent. Created by writer Bill Mantlo and artist Sal Buscema, Sabra’s first appearance was in the 1980s The Incredible Hulk #256. The character was named after a local term indicating a Jewish person born in Palestine. Unfortunately, Sabra is also the name of a Palestinian community in Lebanon that was the site of a massacre in 1982 of Palestinian and Lebanese Shiite civilians killed by Lebanese Christian militiamen which were allied to Israel.

CNN reported at the time: “Christian militiamen started a three-day killing spree in Sabra and Shatila on September 16, 1982, after being let in by Israeli soldiers who sealed off the two camps when they occupied the western sector of the Lebanese capital. The militiamen massacred more than 1,000 men, women, and children in one of the worst atrocities of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war while the Israeli soldiers ringing the camps stood by.”

In the Sabra character’s debut, the word “Palestinian” is never used, which is a tactic that Zionists will employ to erase Palestinian identity; they’re just called “Arabs,” because Palestinians don’t exist. In that same debut, black-veiled antagonists plant a bomb that ends up killing a young Palestinian boy, which prompts Sabra to weep over the dead boy’s body. That’s an example of what we call “shoot and cry” propaganda.

One cause for the sheer depth of the negative feedback is that it isn’t coming just from supporters of Palestine. Disney and Marvel are also getting heat, and justifiably so, for naming their Captain America movie after an ugly anti-Semitic trope. The “New World Order” theory postulates global villainy on the part of Jews. Some are also upset at the casting of a Jewish actor as the primary antagonist, though that casting took place years ago.

Marvel Comics Sabra
Cover of ‘The Incredible Hulk #256’. (Marvel Comics)

Whatever else the decision to include the Sabra character may be, there is little disputing the fact that it shows a certain kind of fealty to Israel and to its supporters in the West. At a time when most studios and producers would go to great lengths to avoid touching the issue, coming out swinging this strong is a clear and public demonstration of intent.

Certainly, Kevin Feige, the producer, and Julius Onah, the director of Captain America: New World Order will defend their choice. Ultimately, though, their defenses are likely to fall on deaf ears.

So, what is it that gives Disney, by way of Marvel, the supreme confidence required to go out of their way to barrel headlong into such a large controversy? Given the facts on the ground, it seems like there could only be one answer: Arrogance.

Most of the Marvel fanbase identifies as some combination of liberal, progressive, and democratic (both small and big D) in their values. Recent polling has shown that among liberals, progressives, and Democrats, justice for Palestinians and an end to the world’s longest-running illegal military occupation has become a majority issue, which means that over 51 percent of those demographics are now what the status quo has long referred to as “pro-Palestinian.”

The arrogance required of a company to force onto its target audience something deeply unpopular with that audience is as self-evident as it is staggering. The arrogance required of a company to proudly announce the casting and inclusion of an Israeli character named Sabra just a week before the 40th anniversary of a brutal massacre of Palestinians at a site of the same name is as intentional as it is staggering. And the only explanation that makes any sense is that Disney simply doesn’t care.

Perhaps it’s because they’ve made plenty of money off the MCU already, in general, and on the three previous Captain America films in particular. Perhaps it’s just that they’ve yet to regret any large-scale, mainstream defense of Israel. Whatever the reason for the arrogance, the arrogance is apparent.

Just as Warner Bros. did and continues to do with its co-opting and propagandizing of a beloved comics icon, Disney and its producers appear to be betting that most of their own fanbase’s posturing on Palestine is largely performative, and that when the rubber meets the road, that fanbase will be there opening night, shelling out for the latest Marvel film, as they often do.

Like other factors in this sordid matter, whether or not the decision to include a Mossad-affiliated character turns out to be as disastrous for them as it should be will ultimately come down to whether or not the fans vote with their wallets this time, instead of choosing to fund the subjugation of fellow humans.