The Israel of Marvel’s X-Men

The real-world parallels of the fictional mutant state of Krakoa have long been obvious. Its destruction poses questions for readers

The Israel of Marvel’s X-Men
Branding at an X-Men ’97 launch event this year in Hollywood. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

“We will buy your banks, we will buy your schools, we will buy your media, we will buy your politicians and then when we have bought all the rest we will buy you, because you have taught us that everything has a price, and we are happy to pay. Then when we have this influence we will use it to make sure that the wrong sorts of people, and you know who, no longer have any economic power. We will not allow them inside our institutions because it’s important they do not have anywhere to peddle their dangerous, outdated ideas. And that is how it will end, like a fire with no oxygen. Yes, of course, there will still be people who fear and hate us. They just simply won’t be able to do anything about it any longer. So, as I said, there will be no war.”

Thus speaks Magneto, the founding father of the new mutant nation of Krakoa, at Davos, in response to a question on how to prevent an inevitable war between his nation and the rest of humanity. While Magneto’s words in context are supposed to echo and mock the modus operandi of the global capitalist and white supremacist systems of power, without that context they sound unnervingly like deranged ramblings about an international Jewish conspiracy.

The past eight months have been laden with media commentary on Israel and Palestine. Interestingly, few if any seem to have noticed the parable of the mutant nation of Krakoa, a five-year storyline in the hugely popular Marvel X-Men comics that eerily mirrors the founding of the State of Israel.

Krakoa’s storyline ends with the brutal destruction of the mutant nation and the literal ascension of the fabled Krakoa to Heaven, as well as the forced exile of its people. Given that this ending to the comics’ Krakoa era was released earlier this month, a closer inspection seems warranted to answer the question: What was Marvel’s X-Men trying to say about Israel exactly?

For those who are unfamiliar (or are just aware that Hugh Jackman is Wolverine in the movies), the X-Men were created in the 1960s by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, as a metaphor for the American civil rights movement. The X-Men stories have always revolved around the persecuted minority of the mutants who were hated for being (and at times looking) different, as well as their ability to achieve feats beyond the ability of the nonmutants, caused by the X gene that marks them as a separate species: so-called Homo superior.

The internal struggle facing the mutants has usually been between the peaceful ones aiming for equality and coexistence, led by the mutant British professor Charles Xavier, playing the role of the mutants’ Martin Luther King figure if you will, while the Malcom X figure is played by the German-Jewish mutant supremacist Magneto, a survivor of the Holocaust radicalized by decades of human bigotry and persecution, who believes in violent resistance and finds Xavier’s coexistence dream delusional. Their fights are usually further complicated by humans regularly trying to commit genocide against the mutants, cure them or keep them oppressed because they fearfully see them as a Darwinian existential threat to the “normal” population of Homo sapiens.

While the X-Men series has long been influenced by Jewish writers, including its creators Lee and Kirby, the comics’ storylines never contained overt parallels to Israel. The mutants remained an analog for whatever persecuted minority was seeking equal rights at the time, such as during the 1990s struggle for gay rights, when the comics featured a mutant-killing virus that paralleled the devastation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The mutants-as-queer analogy extended for almost 30 years, drawing its share of criticism from the queer community, most prominently author and poet Maggie Nelson in her memoir “The Argonauts,” for its extended maintenance of the status quo of their victimhood without showing that any improvement is possible, whether through revolution or assimilation, while also marking the revolutionaries as the villains. So the story went for decades, until 2019, when acclaimed Marvel writer Jonathan Hickman changed everything.

Hickman, a writer and artist, spearheaded a reboot of the X-Men comics and introduced the “House of X” storyline. The central question in the comics was: What if all the mutants, with all of their world-shaking powers and in spite of all of their ideological differences, united and created a homeland for mutants only?

In a 2019 comic, Xavier, the British son of privilege, joins forces with American mutant scientist Moira McTaggart and the German Holocaust survivor Magneto as the founders of a nation exclusively for mutants on the sentient (it is self-aware and it speaks) mutant island of Krakoa. After assembling a ruling council largely composed of mutants from Western nations (with the Egyptian Apocalypse and half-Kenyan Storm being the only exceptions), the founders decide that Krakoa needs a creation myth along with laws and customs, which they set out to establish.

The inception of the mutant nation of Krakoa immediately led readers to draw parallels with the creation of the State of Israel. In her article “From Jerusalem to Krakoa: House of X and the State of Israel,” Harvard professor Stephanie Burt remarked that while the X-Men comics covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before the Hickman era, “the Krakoan comics of 2019 speak to Israeli history with unmatched detail. The story of Krakoa … has point-by-point parallels to people, ideas and events that built the Israeli state.” The following are the parallels she notes in her article, which are particularly obvious if one replaces the word Krakoa with Israel.

Krakoa is a safe homeland for all mutants, who are the targets of racists and bigots all over the world who agitate against them and blame them for crimes and misfortunes they had no hand in causing. Krakoa offers all mutants the promise of safety, acceptance and the freedom to live openly since they are citizens of Krakoa by birthright. Any mutant is welcome to settle there immediately, and the new settlers receive free housing and care. Aiming to bolster its mutants’ sense of identity and shared culture, Krakoa has created a unique mutant language that only its citizens can speak and understand.

The world’s hatred and persecution of mutants naturally has a huge influence on Krakoa, which reinforces its rulers’ belief that it is always facing an existential threat. Therefore, all mutants who live in Krakoa are expected to fight for Krakoa if they are called to do so and make sacrifices to protect their homeland, with some of the children of Krakoa enrolled in a war college, where they must hone their war skills against their nation’s enemies. The Krakoan rallying cry is “No more,” signifying the newly established mutant nation’s refusal to allow another attempted genocide of its people, which echoes the real-life slogan of “Never again.” The mutants are the hard power that Krakoa’s survival depends on, but Krakoa’s leadership is equally adept at using the soft-power tools of geopolitics and trade.

Fearing becoming a targeted nation of pariahs, Krakoa’s leaders place paramount importance on having their nation recognized as a fully sovereign country by the United Nations. Their strategy hinges on developing advances in medical technology that form the basis for transactional relationships of mutual benefit with other nations. Magneto chooses to relay these conditions to humanity’s representatives in a meeting at Krakoa’s embassy in Jerusalem. When it becomes clear that Krakoan drugs will be available only to those who recognize it, the United Nations votes overwhelmingly one day to give the new nation international recognition.

If you feel that the writers are beating the readers over the head with such overt symbolism at this point, you a) are not wrong and b) have seen nothing yet.

During Krakoa’s early days, on the multiple occasions when nonmutant characters of the Marvel universe express their concern or reservations about Krakoa’s actions to their mutant friends and allies, the conversation never goes well. Their words are usually met with moral indignation from their mutant friends, a list of current and historical grievances that include two genocides in the previous decade alone, and at times accusatory questions as to where those concerned nonmutant heroes were during those horrible events. The mutants state that the nation of Krakoa is an inevitable reaction to human hate and bias against mutants, and that such criticisms are ultimately fueled by that same world’s discomfort with the sudden public projection of mutant unity and power following decades of oppression.

Worryingly, the mutants begin to conflate their genetic superiority to humans with moral superiority, claiming that hate and oppression are hallmarks of human cultural values, which the evolved mutants not only don’t share, but look down upon. Magneto even reminds a concerned human diplomat that the history of mutantdom is of being the oppressed and not the oppressors, and the mutants’ real advantage is not their power, but that they “never conquered a people, stole their land or made slaves of the vanquished.”

This powerful argument and statement obviously has some caveats: First, the argument that a people who were historically oppressed cannot become oppressors or imperialists themselves one day is a logical fallacy. Second, the morally evolved mutant nation of Krakoa ends up doing all of those things, mere weeks after its inception, through its intelligence service, the mutants’ Mossad equivalent, known as X-Force.

As a reaction to an attack on Krakoa by human supremacist militants, X-Force, a Krakoan intelligence agency and black ops team, is created with a special jurisdiction and no oversight. Led by Hank “Beast” McCoy, X-force is sanctioned to employ lethal force to counter threats against the nation, at times preemptively before they materialize, a strategy that inevitably leads to horrific actions, consequences and war crimes, starting with the genocide of the citizens of the South American nation of Terra Verde during one of X-force’s first missions, because they threaten Krakoa economically. Seeing the genocide that he has caused as a threat to Krakoa’s reputation, McCoy covers it up by trying to mind control and puppet Terra Verdeans, adding enslavement to the conquering and genocide, which ultimately backfires in a major scandal for the young nation.

Needless to say, such crimes and actions only increase the fears and suspicions of the general human population, as well as their sense of helplessness against these new gods. This leads to rising antimutant sentiment worldwide and growing support for the militant antimutant organization Orchis, who are now seen as the champions of the human race and the only real resistance to what is dubbed the criminal mutant supremacist nation of Krakoa. Whatever sympathy the mutants have among the human population erodes; it’s easy to root for the victims, but not the powerful.

Since its inception, the “Krakoa is Israel” theory has sparked a lot of debate among X-Men readers, with its detractors pointing to two main differences between the two states: The mutants didn’t have to set up their nation on Krakoa by force, since Krakoa — a mutant sentient island — was not claimed by mutants based on historic right. Rather, the island consented to the mutants moving there, and as Burt puts it in her article, unlike Israel, the island of Krakoa “has no equivalent for Bedouin, Palestinian Arabs or other non-Jews who live or have lived in what is now Israel (never mind the Occupied Territories).” With the absence of a displaced population, the Israel analogy doesn’t line up. As one Reddit poster summed it up: “Krakoa is Israel if Israel wasn’t problematic.”

That was until the Arabs … I mean the Arrakis … showed up.

One day, the mutants of Krakoa discover that thousands of years ago Krakoa was once part of a larger island called Okkara, which housed millions of an older generation of mutants led by a powerful family founded by the mutant leader Apocalypse and his wife’s family, who mostly dress with a Pharaonic Egyptian aesthetic. Those original mutants disappeared because of the splitting of the island of Okkara into two islands during an attempt to protect Earth from a dimensional invasion: The island of Arrako that housed millions of mutants ended up displaced and locked up in an alternate hellish dimension for thousands of years, while the other island remained on Earth, empty, and became Krakoa, which now demands its unification with Arrako. The “Arraki,” who are battle-tested fighters hardened by hundreds of years of war, not only outnumber the Krakoans by millions, they are fueled by the dream of one day returning to Earth and reuniting Arrako and Krakoa by force if necessary. Like the Arabs, these Arraki were undeniably there first.

When Krakoa’s mutants end up defeating the Arraki mutants, thanks to Apocalypse’s assistance against his own family, the Arraki accept coexistence and the reunification of both islands with their people. However, the “one-land” solution doesn’t work out, because upon their reunification, both sentient islands realize that they’ve grown too different to ever be reunited into one land again. Additionally, Krakoan/Arraki coexistence is not going well because of their cultural differences: The Arrakis, who just endured a thousand years of occupation and endless war, are not civilized enough, in the eyes of the British and German founders of Krakoa, to continue having them around. A solution with “deal of the century” vibes is then proposed by Krakoa: The mutants will claim Mars as theirs, terraforming it, naming it Arrako and transferring the millions of Arraki mutants there for a “two-planet solution.”

The Arrakis are told by the Krakoans that they can live there as they please and have self-governance, but from day one the local government ends up being led by the Krakoan mutant Storm, who kills the previous leader and takes her place to keep the Arraki in check during this “transitional phase.” Meanwhile, the humans’ powerlessness in the face of mounting evidence of mutant ascendency and humanity’s obsolescence, and the increasingly public knowledge of the actions and crimes of Krakoa, has bred a huge amount of antimutant resentment. Humanity openly celebrates every time a challenger to the mutants presents themselves in public as “the one to end them,” allowing Orchis to amass more allies and power for their final strike against the mutants.

Thanks to their affiliation with Krakoa and their growing list of enemies, the Arrakis suffer a brutal attack, during which the vast majority of their population is obliterated in an hour. This slaughter leads to a devastating civil war that claims even more Arraki lives, with the Krakoan-led side winning. Yet the victory feels hollow since it comes after Krakoa itself has fallen, thanks to Orchis executing another sudden and violent attack as Krakoa’s leaders celebrate their nation in the third annual “Hellfire Gala,” an opulent event packed with world leaders, famous humans and dignitaries.

At the peak of these festivities, Orchis attacks from orbit and kills all the most powerful mutants quickly, while all remaining mutants are given the choice either to be exiled from Earth or to stay and face being hunted for their “crimes.” Xavier, in his desire to save his people, forces them all to depart from their land, leaving the island empty and under Orchis control. Orchis, empowered by public support based on real and fictional mutant crimes, immediately starts hunting any remaining mutants on Earth and rounding them up into camps where they are interned and tortured. As a response, the remaining mutants on Earth abandon all claims of moral superiority in favor of brutally killing any and all human Orchis members for destroying the mutant dream and turning mutants into a human-persecuted and maligned minority once again.

With the mutant state destroyed and disbanded, the island itself literally ascends to the heavens, ending the age of Krakoa. The Marvel writers’ solution to the “Krakoa mutants problem” seems to be the annihilation of their state and their planetary deportation, with them returning to live in a world that continues to construct a culture of hatred against them. In other words, the status quo is restored.

With the Krakoan age at its end, as a reader I have struggled with the meaning of this parable and its parallels with Israel. What is the lesson here? Is it a cautionary tale? Is it saying that the fall of Israel is inevitable and it will end in violence and forced displacement? Is it suggesting that the only way for Israel to redeem itself is by its population becoming a stateless persecuted minority again? Or was it all a case of lazy writing, with the Israel analogy being plagiarized for the sake of world-building, coupled with haphazard stories or plot points that, when combined with the need for a status reset, led to this end result?

Interestingly, while the Krakoa/Israel analogy was a huge part of the debate when the storyline launched, it is now suspiciously absent from the commentary discussing the end of the Krakoan era of X-men. I’m not one to judge intentions, nor am I qualified to decide what a Jewish person should view as an attack or incitement, but given the current context, would the destruction of the state of Krakoa be considered antisemitic in today’s media environment? What’s obvious is that Israel’s inclusion is both a homage and a critique, one that explores how noble intentions coupled with unchecked power can lead to slow corruption and villainy, if not eventual self-destruction.

The parable of Krakoa is really a Greek tragedy, one that mirrors the promise of Israel when it was first founded (as a leftist egalitarian nation that even the Egyptian Communist Party supported publically at its inception) and what it has become over time. Hickman intended to write a story about the effect of persecution and victimization on a group, which leads them to adopt a mindset of “segregation for safety” and cheer displays of overwhelming strength against their enemies — a story about the leaders of such minority groups, their determination to keep their people safe and the horrific price that they are willing to impose on themselves and others in pursuit of that goal. In a certain light, one could even argue that the entire Krakoa storyline is sympathetic to the “good intentions” behind the morally compromised and security-minded thinking that the leaders of a country like Israel must engage in, even if it ultimately supposes that it’s wrong and futile.

Hickman clearly empathizes with the founding fathers who created Israel and appreciates why they acted the way they did in its early years — their “good intentions” coupled with a “realistic worldview” concerning the dangers facing them — as well as then depicting the actions stemming from that worldview as leading down a slow path to destruction. Like Krakoa, Israel is a nation born out of desperation, whose purpose is to gather, shelter and protect its people by whatever means necessary, from a world that hates them for being different or better. So it is built as a fortress, a militarized society that uses this historic persecution as fuel for its convictions regarding the morality of its actions, and immediately becomes obsessed with displays of strength and the projection of power. Ironically, those same displays of strength end up inviting challenge and escalation from their enemies and victims, garnering fear and hatred toward them from the general public and eventually creating vicious never-ending cycles of violence.

His sympathies aside, Hickman is suggesting that despite its initial appeal and positive effects on its population, Krakoa is the wrong solution to a very real problem. He argues that taking that route always leads to the exact opposite of its intent, that when you openly oppose the world, the world pushes back even more. It also means that everyone who belongs to, supports or is affiliated with that state, but who lives elsewhere in the world, ends up having to deal with the brunt of the anger and hatred this state’s actions evoke, whether in words or acts of violence.

The parable of Krakoa implies that a state born of a desire for security — a militarized society, segregated, focused on strength, always placed in the crosshairs of attacks and a target of hatred due to the actions of its leaders — is at worst a fundamentally broken state and at best resembles a prison for its people, who spend every day of their lives with the existential fear of being attacked and wiped out, with any survivors displaced and most of the world cheering on. Hickman shows us that such a society will eventually require villains to keep it safe and view killers as necessary for its survival, if one can call that surviving. And once you sign up as one of its citizens, you are trapped. You are locked into this dynamic, for better or worse, until the bitter end, or worse, forever.

The reason I believe this is Hickman’s finale passage in Inferno, his final Krakoa story:

“We made a thing. An act of pure creation. An act of desperation, to once and for all, save our people. All of them. The nation’s founders, the hopeful, the trustworthy, the innocent children, their broken keepers, the heroes, the villains, the killers and liars, and the true believers. A place built on hope, paid in full, and able to withstand any force that would rise against it. We built the walls high, and locked ourselves in. Forever.”

Now tell me that doesn’t sound familiar.

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