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Marvel vows ‘new approach’ to Sabra character amid torrent of anti-Israel criticism

Casting of Israeli Shira Haas as ex-Mossad agent in upcoming ‘Captain America’ film has prompted accusations entertainment giant is stereotyping Palestinians and ‘glorifying’ IDF

Marvel's Sabra (via Twitter)
Marvel's Sabra (via Twitter)

Marvel Studios said it will take “a new approach” to its controversial character Sabra, to be played by Israeli actress Shira Haas, after Palestinian groups criticized the decision to bring the Israeli comic book character to the big screen.

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

Palestinian rights activists charged last week that by including Sabra in the upcoming “Captain America” film, Marvel would be “glorifying the Israeli army and police.”

In a series of strongly worded tweets, the Institute for Middle East Understanding, a pro-Palestinian organization based in the US, said Marvel employed “a slew of racist, anti-Muslim stereotypes and dehumanizing depictions of Palestinians, all while glorifying Israeli military violence.”

“Marvel is promoting Israel’s violence against Palestinians and enabling the continued oppression of millions of Palestinians living under Israel’s authoritarian military rule,” IMEU said.

Critics also claim the Marvel Comics’ depiction of Arab characters has been plagued with stereotypes, painting Arabs as misogynistic, violent and antisemitic.

“That comic doesn’t suggest anything positive about how this film will play out,” prominent American-Palestinian activist Yousef Munayyer told CNN.

In this June 9, 2021, photo, Shira Haas poses for a portrait in New York. (Matt Licari/Invision/AP)

He said the glorification of Israeli spies as heroes is “insensitive and disgraceful.”

In the comics, Sabra, also known as Ruth Bat-Seraph, is a former superhuman agent for the Mossad spy agency who sometimes knocks up against other superhuman characters such as the Hulk and the X-Men.

In one of Sabra’s early adventures in the comic universe, she appears to show little remorse over the death of a Palestinian boy, until the Incredible Hulk steps in to teach Sabra about human compassion.

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

Sabra, in Hebrew tzabar, is the local word for the fruit of the cactus (commonly known as a prickly pear). It has long been a slang term for Israeli-born Jews.

However, to Palestinians, Sabra brings to mind a refugee camp in Lebanon, which alongside the Shatila camp was subject to a massacre at the hands of Lebanese Maronite Christian gunmen. Israel is widely blamed for allowing the attack to take place during its 1982 invasion of Beirut.

In recent years Marvel has sought better ethnicity and gender representation, employing “cultural consultants” to ensure that minority communities are fairly represented, the Variety report said.

Disney has set a May 3, 2024, release date for the movie.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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