Breaking through the Empire’s glass ceiling

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

On a lecture tour in Atlanta– yesterday I spoke at a clergy breakfast at Columbia Theological Seminary, then at Kennesaw University.  Today I speak at a daylong conference on how to break the interfaith ecumenical deal and move toward a prophetic solidarity among the various religions of the world.  Can those of faith – with secular folks as well – embrace the prophetic call during the High Holy days?  Or will we continue to mouth empty pieties while the Middle East burns?

On these tours I meet fabulous people and have long and deep discussions about justice in the world.  Amid the drumbeats of war, there isn’t much we can do except prepare a future beyond what we are living through.  Whether we will make it to the other side is uncertain.

Where these discussions lead is anyone’s guess but it sure beats John Kerry and Company pounding the drumbeat of war.  Kerry’s fulminating before Congress was a lowlight, claiming the moral obscenity high ground in a way that only empire pyrotechnics allow.  Obviously, Syria is in for a further drubbing – make no mistake about that – but in the process the WMD’s debate haunts the proceedings every UN inspector step along the way.

American credibility is at all-time low.  It doesn’t seem it can get much lower.  In the coming days it will.  Why not simply say it’s time for the US to weigh in on Syria more forcefully than we have already, that we have the means and the ways of war and that we will strike Syria because we can?  This would be better than spouting the fanciful nonsense about chemical weapons, as if every advanced nation doesn’t use chemicals in their warfare arsenal, the US and Israel in the lead.

Dated news?  It seems that every day the continuing Fukushima nuclear debacle and the Egyptian martial law catastrophe warrant our attention – attention diverted by the Syrian redlines that Obama drew – and now says the world did – even though the world is heading for the hills and with every day that passes the coalition of the willing is less and less willing.  In the end, Obama will order strikes on Syria simply because he drew those redlines and because he and his Presidency would be humiliated if he didn’t.

Samantha Power at the UN isn’t thinking through the consequences of striking Syria either.  Shall we grant her a military medal in advance for condemning others to death in the days ahead?

Power’s self-righteousness is amazing but such posturing is now to be taken for granted among our public officials.  What puffed up figures she and the others have become.  Power is the enabler of enablers, part of the rogues gallery of warmongers that has become the US landscape. Power is no better than the men at whose pleasure she serves.

If Obama portends the end of conventional politics, does a female warmonger like Power force us to rethink the feminist trajectory that seemed so promising when it burst onto the world scene decades ago?  Are she and Susan Rice – not to leave out Hillary Clinton – the epitome of making it with the guys, breaking through the empire glass ceiling so that women, too, can become murderers?

Though Israel/Palestine has taken a backseat to Syria, the question I’m asked most frequently in Atlanta is whether the oppression of the Palestinians will go on forever.  Forever is a long, long time.  Nonetheless, my response about the possible imminent collapse of Israeli oppression isn’t hopeful.   The Syrian catastrophe plays right into the hands of Israel, that is if something doesn’t go awry and the Middle East explodes in an unpredictable way.

In that explosion, anything is possible, the fog of war and all that.  But despite the threats from Iran and Hezbollah, it’s likely to be more suffering raining down on the Syrian people.  As if it could get worse.  It will.

That’s what has been said for years about Israel/Palestine – that it can’t get worse for Palestinians.  Then it does.

Which begs the question:  Has anyone heard dissenting words from our Jewish leaders on the topic of justice, war and murder during the High Holy days?

The silence is telling.  It is also a judgment.  It is part and parcel of the end of Jewish history as we have known and inherited it.

Did the end come when we, too, broke through that empire glass ceiling and joined the nations?  For Jews, becoming executioners was a sign of strength, the thrill of thrills, strutting on the world stage after being on the bottom for so long.   Now it has become a habit, an addiction, one we can break only through introspection and sacrifice.

The primal prophetic demands Jews think again about our destiny and our contribution to the world.  We can only accomplish this with others who are likewise thinking through their destiny and their contribution to the world.

Breaking through the glass ceiling – it forces all of us into a downward spiral that is difficult, if not impossible, to escape.    It may be our collective destiny to continue downward until there’s nowhere left to fall.   Or can we come together, break the fall and begin to rise again?




About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and

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