In the epoch that has elapsed between DC’s announcement of the new Wonder Woman and its actual premiere this weekend, the film’s gender politics have dominated much of the discussion: Its female director, female lead, and the handful of recent women-only screenings that were perfectly calibrated to enrage the Internet’s lamest men.
But the new Wonder Woman is not just a woman; she is also Jewish—or at least played by a Jewish woman. (Somewhere, Chuck Woolery stirs.) Gal Gadot was born in the small city of Rosh HaAyin, became Miss Israel at age 18, and served a compulsory two years in the Israeli Defense Force as a combat trainer. As publicity for Wonder Woman has ramped up, Gadot’s Israeli and Jewish identity has mattered an awful lot to an awful lot of people.
Gadot’s origins landed in headlines this week when Lebanon banned the film from theaters just days before it was scheduled to premiere. The movie had passed the country’s usual guidelines, but pressure from the Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel–Lebanon prompted the government to pull its approval at the last minute. (Gadot’s IDF service overlapped with the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, which resulted in, according to Human Rights Watch, “at least 1,109 Lebanese deaths, the vast majority of whom were civilians, 4,399 injured, and an estimated 1 million displaced.”) Bragging on Wednesday about the boycott’s success on Facebook, the Campaign referred to Wonder Woman as “the israeli Soldier film.” The group also tried and failed to block Batman v. Superman last year, when Gadot debuted in the Wonder Woman role.
Gadot herself has proudly discussed her experience in the IDF, touting her combat training in interviews as helpful in preparing for the role. (A decade ago, she participated in a Maxim feature on women of the IDF, “the world’s sexiest soldiers.”) She has also been outspoken in her political support for her country. In 2014, as the Gaza conflict escalated, she posted a message of support to her official Facebook page. “I am sending my love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens,” she wrote, next to a photo of herself praying with her young daughter. “Especially to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children...We shall overcome!!! Shabbat Shalom! #weareright #freegazafromhamas #stopterror #coexistance #loveidf.”
Her views prompted an online backlash, and then a backlash-to-the-backlash by conservative American websites that slammed “SJWs” for their objections. The dynamic escalated this week with the news of Lebanon’s ban. Actress Gina Rodriguez tweeted that the ban “sucks,” received a flood of angry responses, and then deleted her tweet and apologized; outlets like National Review then held up the commotion as proof that feminism is about “[throwing] Jewish women under the bus.” What a delightful corner of the Internet!
Jewish and Israeli media outlets, meanwhile, have covered the movie with a sense of hometown swagger. A critic for Haaretz nodded in his review to those who would watch the film with “national Israeli pride,” and the Forward asked if Gadot is on her way to becoming “the biggest Israeli superstar ever” and a “global feminist torch-holder for decades to come.” “It isn’t just a triumph for women that the new savior of the world is female,” a writer for the Jewish Journal wrote. “It is a triumph for the Jews.” Although the new movie is set during World War I, Wonder Woman was created in 1941 and her first enemies were the Axis powers of World War II—so “fighting Hitler,” the Journal said, “is in the character’s DNA.”
Expect the squabbling over Gadot’s politics and identity to continue as Wonder Woman enters theaters. Who would have thought that a story that involves both comic book culture and Middle Eastern politics would prompt such furor?