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Letter to the Editor: In response to “MCU’s Sabra represents colonial power without consequence”

Tel-Aviv, Israel-born Shira Haas, who will play Sabra in Captain America: New World Order, has become one of Israel’s most celebrated actresses. While this is not the first time Marvel has cast a Jewish character, Sabra is the first obviously Israeli superhero in mainstream media. With a born and raised Israeli character who has a Star of David engraved into her uniform, Israelis and Jews around the world are excited and hopeful for accurate representation.

As soon as Haas’s new role was announced, attacks against the actress and Marvel began,

specifically claims that Sabra’s name is an offense to the victims of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon. Additionally, on Yom Kippur, the Holiest day in the Jewish calendar, an article titled MCU’s Sabra represents colonial power without consequence was published. Jewish campus students were shocked to read through extensive polarizing language including “propaganda,” “occupation,” “apartheid,” and “massacres,” with a disconcerting absence of explanation, evidence and citation to back up these claims. 

Sabra, the superhero, has no connection to Sabra and Shatila. The word Sabra in Hebrew comes from the name “צַבָּר” (Tzabar), which is a slang term that refers to a native-born Jewish Israeli. Belinda Glass, the spouse of Mark Gruenwald, a Marvel writer, chose the character’s name. Glass was inspired by the term used to encapsulate Israeli Jews — a prickly pear cactus, having thick, tough skin on the outside but a sweet and soft inside. Whereas, the Sabra and Shatila Massacre was termed after the two refugee camps that were attacked — صبرا عند شاتيلا. Furthermore, Sabra’s character was created in 1980 — two years before the massacre even occurred.

The Sabra and Shatila massacre was a tragedy, and many innocent lives were lost — mostly

Palestinian and Lebanese. However, blaming the State of Israel is neither fair nor correct. 

During the first Lebanon war, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), a Christian-dominated militia,

fought alongside Israel and against Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorists — whose charter included the destruction of the State of Israel and the elimination of Israeli Sovereignty. On Sept. 16, 1982, Christian Phalangists from the SLA avenged the murder of Bachir Gemayel, their leader, by brutally murdering hundreds of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. This was a direct violation of the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) orders to the SLA — with the IDF being outside the camp during this time.  

Despite the IDF being unaware of what was happening inside the camps, not witnessing,

committing, or knowing of the massacre in real time, Israel still responded by apologizing for

not physically entering the camps and stopping the massacre. Israel also punished those who might have made it possible such as forcing the resignation of the defense minister and many other senior officers. You might argue that Israel is not totally innocent, but it is unfair to argue that Israel is solely, or even primarily, responsible for the tragedy.

The article implies that Israelis are equated to the government and its actions, such as

when Sabra is called a nationalistic symbol — simply for the fact that she is an Israeli. This holds Israelis to a double standard that no other group is held to. A double standard that was not held to any other Marvel characters such as Captain America or Shang-Chi. 

It is always acceptable to criticize governments and their policies, however the misinformation included in the authors article needs to be addressed. 

In a second attempt to demonize the IDF, Sabra’s involvement with the Mossad is criticized, because of its “horrific assassination campaigns,” such as Operation Wrath of God cited in the article. The Operation Wrath of God targeted PLO terrorists involved in the horrific hostage, torture and murder of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes during the 1972 Olympics in Munich, including the person behind the attack, Ali Hassan Salameh. In reality, Mossad is the national intelligence agency of Israel responsible for foreign intelligence analysis, counterterrorism, and rescue missions such as Operation Entebbe and Operation Moses.

Perhaps the most dangerous part of the article was its title: MCU’s Sabra represents colonial power without consequence. Israel is the indigenous homeland of the Jewish people, where they have maintained a continuous presence for over 3000 years according to archaeological and historical evidence. Indigenous people cannot colonize their homeland. the incredibly misleading claim of Sabra’s colonial power delegitimizes and denies thousands of years of Jewish history as well as the Jewish struggle to decolonize themselves. This accusation of colonialism likewise implies that the founding of the State of Israel was a racist endeavor, which is an example of how criticism of Israel can cross into antisemitism according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

In addition to their ahistorical commentary on Sabra, the Muslim Students Association’s (MSA) statement also contributes to the spread of misinformed and polarizing information by claiming Israel’s existence is illegal, unjust and horrific, along with the accusation of Israel being an apartheid state. This claim is not only false and misleading, but also an insult to those who have actually lived under an apartheid.

An apartheid state is one in which the government employs policies which discriminate on the grounds of identity, such as race. In Israel, all Israelis are treated as equal before the law, regardless of race, gender, and religion. From parliamentarians in the Knesset, to Israel’s national soccer team. Arab Israelis work alongside Jews as doctors, lawyers, Supreme Court judges, and in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 

The author’s disclaimer that Sabra is not problematic because she’s Jewish, but rather because of a connection with Israel, is incredibly confusing, and harmful for Jewish students on campus as Israel is an integral part of many Jewish Peoples’ identities. 

Why did they feel the need to make this disclaimer? 

Israel is the only Jewish country in the world, and more importantly, the Jewish People’s

indigenous homeland. The article’s statement that Israel “dominates global politics with an iron fist” harkens back to one of the oldest antisemitic tropes, the idea that Jews control the world. As a reminder, the Jewish People make up merely 0.2% of the global population

We urge the MSA to rethink their statement, and the impact it had on Jewish students feeling unsafe and unwelcome. The majority of Jews at the University of Calgary (U of C) are either from Israel themselves, or have friends and family living there. We ask the MSA to continue to make the U of C a safe and inclusive space for all students. It’s important Jewish students on campus don’t feel the need to check their identities at the door to be welcomed and feel safe on campus, nor feel the need to minimize the excitement they feel to finally have representation in the media of a proud Jewish woman, from their indigenous homeland who doesn’t need to hide any part of their identity. 

Amy Braun, Dorit Gerov, Rachel Oskin, & Amit Shalev in collaboration with Hasbara Canada, Calgary Hillel, StandWithUs Canada, Students Supporting Israel (SSI).

Letters to the Editor published in the Gauntlet do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board. The Gauntlet retains the right to edit submissions for brevity and clarity.

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