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Sabra (Hebrew: צבר, pronounced tzabar) is an informal term that refers to Israeli Jews born in Israel. The term first appeared in the 1930s to refer to a Jew who had been born in Mandatory Palestine or in Ottoman Palestine (cf. Old Yishuv). Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Israelis have used the word to refer to a Jew born anywhere in the historical region of Palestine (Eretz Yisrael), which today comprises Israel proper, Gaza, and the West Bank.
The term alludes to a tenacious, thorny desert plant, known in English as prickly pear, with a thick skin that conceals a sweet, softer interior. The cactus is compared to Israeli Jews, who are supposedly tough on the outside, but delicate and sweet on the inside.
In 2010, over 4,000,000 Israeli Jews (70%) were sabras, with an even greater percentage of Israeli Jewish youths falling into this category.
According to the The Dictionary of Slang (Hebrew) by Israeli linguist Ruvik Rosenthal, Jewish immigrants to Palestine began using the term in the early 1930s. The term was used by the Zionist movement, to celebrate the "New Jew" that emerged in Israel. Unlike the bourgeois "old Jew" born in the Jewish diaspora, the "New Jew" was a kibbutz member or a farmer. The "Old Jew" often spoke broken Hebrew with a heavy accent, while the sabra spoke the language as a mother tongue. Unlike the "Old Jew" who did not fight for his self-defense, the Sabra fought in the Jewish resistance movements, in the Palmach and after the establishment of Israel in the Israel Defense Forces.
An important influence on the Sabra personality was considered the participation in national youth movements, (such as the Hanoar Haoved Vehalomed, Hashomer Hatzair and Hatsofim) followed by the universal participation in military service for both sexes.
The sociological characteristics of the sabra were examined by Oz Almog in his book The Sabra - The Creation of the New Jew. According to Almog the term "Tzabar" originated from the insult "Sabras" directed towards migrants of the First Aliyah (which consisted of the first generation of native born members of the Zionist movement) by migrants of the Second Aliyah and the Third Aliyah. The changing of the meaning of the term, to emphasize the softer interior rather than the roughness, was done by the journalist Uri Kesari who published an essay, "We Are the Leaves of the Sabra!", on 18 April 1931 in the newspaper Doar HaYom in which he argued against the discrimination which was cast against the native-born by the new immigrants.
The prestige of the Sabra increased during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. The Israeli public, and especially the older generation, tended to attribute the achievements of the war to the country's "sabras", while minimizing the part of the new immigrants and other groups. Even descriptions of the achievements of Operation Kadesh (1956) emphasized the image of the Sabra. The large immigration to Israel of Jews from Muslim countries during the 1950s, the penetration of Western culture and primarily the American culture, as well as the social and political changes which were created following the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War, resulted in a decline of the use of the term after the 1970s.
In relation, those who were born in the country after independence in 1948 became known as the "Dor haMedina" (Hebrew: דור המדינה), or "Statehood Generation", and have been largely described by cultural commentators as being motivated less by the strident nationalism and/or socialism of the pre-independence settler generations and more by a general cultural pragmatism and sensitivity to the mass-cultural output of Western powers.
The Sabra received an artistic and symbolic representation in the form of the illustrated character "Srulik" (which wears shorts, sandals and a Tembel hat), created by cartoonist Dosh. Another character which become famous was that of the Israeli children's TV program "Kishkashta" which was a speaking cactus.
The English form of the word, Sabra, served Israeli manufacturers who wanted to brand their products as typical Israeli products, which was sold in the foreign markets. As a result, "Sabra liqueur" and "Sabra sport" (the sports model of the "Sussita") were created. The world's largest hummus manufacturer (as of 2009) is a U.S. company called the Sabra Dipping Company.
In popular culture, an episode of Saturday Night Live contained a skit entitled "Sabra Price Is Right" featuring Tom Hanks as the guest host. The skit was written by Robert Smigel and is a parody of Israel-born Jews making bargains with people who believe this show is actually The Price Is Right. In the skit, Hanks' character "Uri Shurinson" and the other Sabra are actually swindling the contestants - conning them into purchasing shoddy products (a Summit clock-radio, a "Pinnacle satellite dish" that's actually a v-aerial, a cordless phone that's actually a defective rotary phone, a microwave that's actually a toaster oven, a CD-player that's actually a child's bank, and even a defective buzzer from the game show itself!) for which they guess the price rather than winning them. The skit concludes with an Arab portrayed by Dana Carvey who bargains in the same manner as the Sabra and in the middle of their argument, they all "disco" as the skit concludes. A skit featured in an earlier SNL episode was entitled "Sabra Shopping Network" and also featured Uri (Tom Hanks) and his crew, this time bargaining with callers phoning into a television shopping show.
The first sabra to exercise the powers of the office of the Prime Minister of Israel was Yigal Allon, who served as acting prime minister from February to March 1969; he was born in Kfar Tavor. The first sabra to serve as Prime Minister rather than acting Prime Minister was Yitzhak Rabin, who first held the office 1974-77, and then again 1992-1995. Since Rabin first took office, there have been four other sabra Prime Ministers: the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is the first and (so far) only sabra Prime Minister to have been born in the modern state since Israel's declaration of independence in 1948; he first took office in 1996, before leaving office in 1999 and returning in 2009. Furthermore, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert were all born in what is now the territory of the State of Israel during the Mandate period.
In addition to Netanyahu being the first of the Statehood Generation to serve as Prime Minister, Avraham Burg, speaker of the Knesset from 1999-2003, was also the first Speaker to have been born in the modern state since 1948.