Lev Topor

Marvel of Sabra: Refuting Anti-Zionist Criticism

Sabra fruit or prickly pear - the real meaning of Marvel's Sabra super heroine

Sabra, Marvel’s Israeli superheroine, though fictitious yet fantastic, has come under fire and criticism in recent days as it was announced that she will appear, under the cover of Israeli actress Shira Hass, in the future film Captain America: New World Order. Those who criticize Sabra’s appearance in the future film are mainly anti-Israeli advocates, arguing that the superheroine is offensive to Palestinians and Arabs since she allegedly stands and acts against these populations, oppresses them, and since her name reminds of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon that took place during September 1982 and was made by Lebanese forces. Following manipulated criticism, actuality should also be presented – and I attempt to present it below, dealing with Sabra’s name and then her ambitions.

Sabra, also known as Ruth Bat-Seraph, was fully introduced in the first volume of the Incredible Hulk, issue 256 in 1980 and, naturally, her military code designation is SA-1980. In this issue, her name is also explained – “The word Sabra denotes a native-born Israeli, the name derived from an indigenous form of fruit – A prickly pear possessed of a sweet interior, and a spiny outer surface to protect it from its enemies.” Consequently, it is clear that attempting to artificially assign the superheroine’s name with the massacre in Lebanon, and thus creating a fake link between the heroine and the massacre, is manipulative as Sabra was fully introduced in 1980 and the massacre took place in 1982. Also, Sabra is named after a fruit, not a neighborhood in Beirut. The meaning of Ruth’s alter ego derives from a type of fruit. A fruit that for many decades now acts as a synonym for native Israelis – Sabra or Tzabar (From Hebrew: צַבָּר). Thus, associating similar words with negative events or meanings is an act that not only defames Marvel, Israel and Jews but also belittles the public’s right for accurate information.

The 256th issue of the first volume of the Incredible Hulk describes a story of confusion, chaos and, finally, understanding and internalization. In this issue, it is illustrated and described that the Incredible Hulk (the alter ego of Dr. Bruce Banner) arrives at the shores of Israel. Confused, he draws attention (and fire) from Israeli military and police. While Sabraattempts to trace the Hulk, a terror attack takes place and a young Arab boy named Sahad, who became Bruce’s friends, dies. Before his death, Sahad explains to Bruce the local political disputes between Arabs and Israelis. It is these exact disputes and acts of terrorism by Palestinian and Arab terrorists that murder the boy, along with other victims of their attacks. In the comic, the Hulk says that “Masked men have killed Hulk’s friend – Now Hulk will kill masked men!!!” Sabra, confusingly assumed the Hulk is in league with the terrorists, attacks the Hulk. Later, Sabra and the Hulk talk it over in Jordan and I recommend all to read this issue for more details.

Anti-Israeli advocates argue that Sabra’s future appearance in Captain America: New World Order is a symbol of oppression. For instance, Ahmed Twaij criticized the fact that the terrorists were Arab and mentioned in his article for the Independent that “For millions of Palestinians, Israeli security forces and intelligence agencies are symbols of fear, oppression and violence.” Yumna Patel, Palestine news director for Mondoweiss posted on Twitter that “To say that an Israeli superhero named Sabra is problematic & offensive to all the Palestinians killed & dispossessed by Israeli colonialism is the understatement of the century.”

These types of comments made solely to defame Israel and Marvel are also manipulative and inaccurate. First, the debate about the alleged Israeli colonialism is well-worn now as it is clear that Jews can be considered indigenous to Israel. Even if one does not agree with this, one cannot disregard the fact that the Jews agreed to the 29 November 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine and Arab communities had not. Second, arguing that the evil in the room is Israel, while discussing the context and plot of issue 256 is manipulative since Arab terrorists were the ones who murdered the Arab boy, not Israelis and not Sabra. In reality, the vast majority of terror attacks in Israel against the Jewish population were made by Arab terrorists so the storyline does not contradict reality and history, anti-Israel advocates do so. Furthermore, the fact that the terrorists are Arab does not imply that all Arabs are evil. To be clear, Palestinian terrorism is only an extreme fringe. An important comparison can be made to many Captain America films and many Marvel comic books and it is with Germans and Nazis – Captain America fights the evils of Nazism, not Germans. In the same sense, Israel is against terror, not Arabs.

Concluding, anti-Israeli advocates have crossed the line between information and mis/disinformation once again. The existence of the Israeli state, the endorsement of an Israeli actress and the respect of a comic book figure – Sabra – do not contradict the rights of Arabs. While attempting to defame Marvel, Israel and Jews, anti-Israeli advocates only manipulate truth and belittle the public’s right for accurate information.

About the Author
Dr. Lev Topor is the co-author (w/ Prof. Jonathan Fox) of 'Why Do People Discriminate Against Jews?' Published by Oxford University Press in 2021 and the author of 'Phishing for Nazis: Conspiracies, Anonymous Communications and White Supremacy Networks on the Dark Web' Published by Routledge in 2023. Lev publishes scholarly works and reports on the topic of antisemitism, anti-Zionism, racism and cyber. Previously, Dr. Topor was a research fellow in ISGAP, in the Woolf Institute (Cambridge), in the CCLP (Haifa University) and in The International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem (Jerusalem).
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