This week I excitedly joined millions of others worldwide who went to see Marvel’s latest film, Black Panther, in movie theatres. Amazing special effects, great acting, an interesting and well-paced plot line, and surprisingly good character development, Black Panther is probably one of the best superhero movies I’ve seen in a long time. Not only was the movie generally entertaining, but being the Israel-phile that I am, this story of a tribal homeland had me thinking about my tribal homeland. (Spoiler alert: I suggest you stop reading now, bookmark this article, and get yourself to the movie theatre if you don’t want any spoilers.) I drew many similarities to the film’s fictional nation, Wakanda, and the modern State of Israel.
To begin, the two nations find their first similarities in their foundational narratives. Wakanda is a nation made up of five different tribes, each specializing in a facet of society. Sound familiar? The modern State of Israel is built of Jewish immigrants from all over the world, each bringing unique cultures and practices, culminating in today’s Israel.
This first similarity is surely interesting, but what I found next goes deeper. (Second spoiler alert: If you’re still reading and you REALLY don’t want too much revealed, then I suggest you stop reading now.) The Wakandans have access to a fictional element called vibranium which allows them to develop extremely advanced technology. In order to protect this resource they live in hidden isolation, posing as a third world country to the rest of the world. They have state-of-the art weaponry, methods of transportation, medical technology, and more. But rather than distributing or selling this technology, they choose to stay out of global conflicts (with the exception of secret foreign intelligence stations in specific places throughout the world). For Wakanda, their initial decision is to stay isolated, hidden even, and keep their technology and resources to themselves. Although with all of their advanced weaponry they could probably conquer all of Africa, yet they choose not to.
Israel is certainly similar. Whether it is military, medical, or environmental, Israel develops some of the world’s top technology; and although we don’t have Vibranium, we do have resources such as financial support from the United States. Unlike the Wakandans, we do export our technology to many places in the world. However, like the Wakandans, having these resources makes our tiny nation quite powerful.
You hear in the media all the time about how Israel has a powerful military and it is utilizing its power to bully the underdog Palestinians. Is this really true? Like the Wakandans, Israel does have a more powerful military than the Palestinians–and if it felt so inclined, Israel could probably kill the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza. But also like the Wakandans, Israel chooses not to. (This is not to discount the involvement Israel’s military does have in these areas. Unlike fictional Wakanda, Israel’s situation is much more complicated.)
According to Wikipedia, Wakanda decides not to showcase its might to the rest of the world for fear it might be manipulated or dominated by other nations, should they find out about their supply of Vibranium and its power. But why, and how, does Israel decide know when to showcase its might? (Rhetorical question.)
A highly debated topic, Israel’s decisions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are subject to many outside pressures. From heavy criticism by international bodies like the United Nations, to extreme bias in the media, and explosive anti-Israel activity on university campuses, Israel is subject to countless voices regarding its decisions. However, one of the strongest voices it faces is that of Jews in the Diaspora (Jews living outside of Israel).
Taking us back to Wakanda for a moment, the film’s central villian, Erik Stevens, is half Wakandan and half American. Growing up in the United States, Erik’s Walkandan father told him stories of Wakanda’s incredible innovations, and Erik decides that Wakandan technology is the solution to all of the world’s problems. To make a long story very short, Erik finds his way to Wakanda, effectively becomes the king, and tries to implement his plan of distributing Wakanda’s advanced weaponry to all of the oppressed groups of the world. Lucky for the world, Erik is taken down before he is able to succeed, but not before having some influence. The new king sees positive attributes in Erik’s point of view and decides to start new initiatives to bring Wakandan technology to aid others.
If Israel is Wakanda, Erik is the Jews of the Diaspora. Having been one of them, I know first hand that Jews have a lot of opinions about what Israel should and should not do. However, becoming a Jew who now lives in Israel, I see things very differently. I realize that, like Erik, Jews in the Diaspora think they know what is best for Israel and that they can tell Israel what to do. But also similar to Erik, they don’t have the same perspective and understanding as those living the reality on the ground or have the same stakes in the game. However, they do ultimately have an important point-of-view and their voices are a valuable part of the conversation. I would even argue that Israel needs the Diaspora voice to be an ambassador and educate the world about Israel.
Consequently, Israel faces the challenge of how much influence it should or should not let outside voices have on its decision making process. Some voices are clearly biased against it, yet others have real value. Ultimately, how does Israel decide who to listen to? That is a question neither myself, nor the king of Wakanda can answer.