Marvel's Israeli superhero Sabra sparks online debate

Some users have taken to social media to criticise the casting of the character, while others have praised Marvel's decision

Shira Haas has been cast as Marvel's Israeli superhero Sabra. EPA; Marvel
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Marvel is introducing its first Israeli superhero, Sabra, into the MCU.

During the D23 Expo over the weekend, it was announced that Israeli actress Shira Haas will play the character in the coming film Captain America: New World Order, which is set to be released in 2024.

As details are usually tight around the plots of Marvel films, it is not yet known how big a role Haas will have or if she will be on the side of the bad guys or join forces with Captain America in trying to stop them.

However, the news has sparked a backlash, with some taking to social media to share their criticism.

Before we get into that, though, here’s what you need to know about Sabra.

Who is Sabra?

Sabra is the alias of Ruth Bat-Seraph, a former Mossad spy who happens to be a mutant and has special powers that include super-strength, speed and the ability to fly. She became a police officer in addition to serving as a government agent.

Her official debut in the comics was controversial. In 1981’s Incredible Hulk #256, she mistakenly believes the Hulk is working with terrorists in Israel and the two fight.

After a young Arab boy named Sahad is killed by those terrorists, she goes after the Hulk who then gives her a speech about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the death of Sahad.

Sabra was not a main character, making only 50 appearances in the comic books over the years since her debut.

She’s appeared in other adventures and various storylines, such as teaming up with the Arabian Knight during the Contest of Champions, a three-issue limited comic book series in 1982, and getting caught up in the anti-mutant campaign, fighting alongside the X-Men in a 1997 story arc.

Her last comic book appearance was in 2019's Avengers #11 issue, where she represents the Israeli government in a meeting called by Black Panther.

The controversy

While the term “sabra” is used for a Jewish person born in Israel and is also Hebrew for prickly pear, some feel it's an insensitive name.

One Twitter user referenced the Sabra and Shatila Massacre of 1982, when thousands of Palestinian refugees were killed by Lebanese Christian militia in a refugee camp in Beirut, while Israeli troops took no action to prevent it.

Others praised Marvel's decision to announce an Israeli superhero. Sasha Kaplan tweeted her excitement over a Jewish actress playing the part.

"Wow. Marvel actually got a Jewish actress to play a Jewish character," she wrote. "Gotta admit, I didn't see Sabra coming. I'm excited and worried at the same time. Here's hoping they do it right."

Another user also pointed to the fact that Sabra is actually "an anti-IDF [Israeli Army] superhero" whose "whole origin is anti-colonialism and anti zionism".

Another user tweeted about how "embarrassingly tone deaf" it felt for Marvel to introduce an Israeli and Jewish superhero in a film called New World Order.

Updated: September 13, 2022, 3:36 PM