What Netanyahu learned from a Black Panther

I saw the latest Marvel movie a couple of weeks ago. I was expecting to be blown away, and I left feeling like it was simply adequate. I wasn’t angry, but in my mind it certainly didn’t live up to the praise that was being giving to it from all sides. A friend of mine who happened to agree with me that it was not anywhere near the top of Marvel’s best cinematic offerings was surprised by the critical acclaim, but I wasn’t.

In my opinion, the first round of White people, composed mostly critics and industry hacks, liked Black Panther because they weren’t expecting much from an all-Black cast (yes, except the Tolkien White people… that joke will never get old), and “exceeds expectations” is still a pretty good score. It was the critical equivalent of when people tell me I’m well-spoken.

Then the next round of people went to see the movie based on the great reviews and faced an “Emperor’s New Clothes” scenario. They could either pretend they also thought the movie was the best thing since perforated matzoh (sorry, I was late writing this, and it’s Passover now, so I’m cutting back on the chametz references), or tell the truth and be outed as the racists that they quite possibly are, but don’t want to admit to being. This is one of those moments when I’m proud to be Black, so I can say exactly what I think.

And if you don’t agree with me, you’re obviously racist. Delicious.

However, there is one idea that the movie brought up which I found compelling. I’m about to spoil this movie, but if you haven’t watched it by now and/or haven’t read the comics, you are probably not going to suffer unduly. The kingdom of Wakanda is an African country which has hidden its natural resources and adopted an isolationist world view in an attempt to protect the technology it has exploited from falling into the wrong hands. A key conflict is whether Wakanda has any responsibility to help oppressed people in other places around the world.

The protagonist is at first against the idea of breaking the code of silence that envelopes the true nature of Wakanda’s advanced state. His major argument is that one country can’t be expected to help everyone, and that instead the Wakandans should stick to protecting themselves. Although he eventually agrees (after surviving a beat down worthy of a gangsta rap biopic) to share the wonders of Vibranium with the world, I couldn’t get over the obvious parallels between Wakanda and Israel when faced with a similar situation.

While Israel doesn’t have huge stores of magical rocks, the country has been the birthplace of more than its share of inventions and successful startups. Our military is one of the best in the world, and we can protect ourselves fairly well with some assistance from our allies, primarily the United States. That has made our country look like a ray of hope to people fleeing from unstable conditions in nearby regions. The most prominent case is the plight of the refugees who fled Sudan and Eritrea following a worsening of conditions in these countries in the 90s. Before the construction of a wall on the border between Israel and Egypt, nearly 40,000 of these refugees reached the Israeli border and asked for asylum.

Despite being a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Agency’s 1951 Convention which requires members to review claims made by people who say they are in danger of their lives, the Israeli government took a position that all Sudanese and Eritrean refugees were economic migrants. Only a handful of applicants were accepted officially as legal residents, and the rest were forced into a waiting game that has lasted for more than a decade. Most were left cooped up in a small section of South Tel Aviv without sufficient opportunities for employment, a situation which eventually annoyed the local residents living in quiet desperation between the boundaries the Old Central Bus Station and the New Central Bus Station. Having been ignored for years by the elite, is it any wonder that South Tel Aviv rebelled at the thought of offering assistance, regardless of whether or not the presence of the refugees actually made their lives worse?

This year, Prime Minister Netanyahu looked ready to make a final strike at removing the refugees from the country. His government made secret deals with Uganda and Rwanda, offering payments in return for providing the refugees with a home. This would have been an interesting arrangement, despite being in clear violation of the U.N. Treaty, except for reports that people who had accepted money from Israel to go to these countries had faced abuse and torture. Whoops.

What followed was an organized protest which seems to have pushed the coalition into doing the right thing. Today, it was announced that nearly half of the asylum seekers currently staying in Israel will be absorbed by countries in the West. Additionally, those refugees who stay in Israel will have their status formalized and will have access to education and jobs. The pressure on South Tel Aviv will be lessened as the asylum seekers will be able to find places to live throughout the country, and the funds originally intended to pay for the deportation will instead be used to renovate South Tel Aviv.

So, perhaps Netanayahu finally took some time off to download Black Panther from his favorite torrent site. Congratulations on finally living up to your obligations, Bibi! In my opinion, given the circumstances of its birth, Israel is in a unique position to both understand the challenges of being oppressed while enjoying the perks associated with being a first world country. As is written in Pirkei Avot, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

And if you don’t agree with me, you’re obviously racist. Delicious.

About the Author
Malynnda Littky made aliyah to Israel with her family in 2007 from Oak Park, Michigan. Her recent stay in Paris, enjoying both medical tourism and her new status as the trophy wife of a research economist, has renewed her love for Israel, despite arriving just in time to enjoy several weeks of lockdown.