Why Is Introduction Of Mossad Agent Sabra In Marvel Cinematic Universe Problematic?

The latest superhero to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe was announced at Disney’s D23 Expo to widespread criticism.

Sabra, an Israeli supervillain and Mossad agent – the Israeli secret services – is going to appear in Captain America: New World Order, the fourth installment of the Captain America film franchise, set to be released in 2024. Sabra will be played by Shira Haas, who we already watched in the miniseries Unorthodox.

Sabra’s first appearance dates back to 1981 and, throughout the years, she made numerous appearances starring alongside the X-Men and the Incredible Hulk, among others.

It is a provocative move that has offended Palestinians and Arabs alike worldwide, with the fear that reviving the character would encourage offensive stereotypes about Arabs and the dehumanization of Palestinians in cinema.

Indeed, critics stressed that most of the Arab characters Sabra interacted with in the comics are shown as misogynistic and antisemitic and are wondering whether their portrayal will be different in the cinematic adaptation.

Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian-American writer and analyst based in Washington D.C., told CNN: “The whole concept of turning Israeli spies into heroes is insensitive and disgraceful”, adding that “the glorification of violence against Palestinians specifically and Arabs and Muslims more broadly in mass media has a long and ugly history in the West and it has remarkable staying power”, he added.

The American-Israeli alliance in the cinematic narrative is not a recent phenomenon: since the 1960s, movies have celebrated American and Israeli intelligence agencies’ cooperation in order to defend the democratic values that have been threatened by the Arab-Muslim world. Waleed F. Mahdi, author of “Arab Americans in Film: From Hollywood and Egyptian Stereotypes to Self-Representation” highlighted that “Marvel’s announcement of adapting the comic character of Sabra is a reflection of this legacy”.

Even though the characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are always freshly imagined for the screen and the contemporary audience, even some Israelis say that Sabra may not be a superhero for our time, as she was created in a different era with a specific narrative arc.

Israeli author Etgar Keret told CNN that “this Sabra was created before two Intifadas, it was created before the failing of the Oslo Accords, it was created in a totally different reality and state of mind. And now… it’s tough to keep this kind of icon of simplicity”.

Also, Sabra’s name is problematic. It is originally a nickname for a Jewish person born in Israel or the occupied territories, but the word also indicates one of two Palestinian communities in Lebanon where a massacre of Palestinian and Lebanese Shiite civilians was carried out by Lebanese Christian militiamen allied to Israel during the 1982 Lebanon-Israel war, known as the Sabra and Shatila Massacre, named after the places in which it occurred.

Even though Sabra’s character creation has no relation to the massacre, the announcement of her introduction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe just a week before the massacre’s 40th anniversary has attracted backlash from the Arab audience who has accused the Hollywood major of being insensitive to one of the most tragic events in the history of the Palestinian people.

The main issue is not just related to a matter of timing or name, but to the fact that the massacre itself was led by a Mossad-linked militia in territory under Israeli military control.

Furthermore, Sabra’s exposure will be a publicity stunt for Mossad, in particular among the younger audience, and could even help Israeli intelligence to recruit new sources abroad. At least that is what it says Avner Avraham, a former Mossad officer and founder of the Spy Legends Agency which consults for film and TV shows portraying Israeli spies.


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