U Pauses Hiring Of Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Director

Despite what the school termed as “enthusiastic support” for Raz Segal being offered the directorship of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the school’s interim president has put the brakes on that appointment. 

The school released a statement Monday afternoon: “In the past several days, additional members of the University community have come forward to express their interest in providing perspective on the hiring of the position of Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Because of the community-facing and leadership role the Director holds, [i]t is important that these voices are heard. Our focus is on the mission of the Center. Accordingly, the Interim President has paused the Director selection process to allow an opportunity to determine next steps.”

In seeking clarification if Segal’s offer was rescinded, the school responded: “Due to state privacy laws, the University cannot share additional information at this time as to your question about a particular individual.”

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, which has long partnered with the CHGS, thanked Ettinger in its statement on Monday. In a follow-up on Tuesday, the JCRC confirmed that “going forward there will be more direct community involvement in the Center Director search process. Clearly, we’ve been heard. Considering these developments, we are asking our community to pause your messages of protest to the Interim President, Provost, and Regents.”

“As the University determines its next steps, we expect that the consensus perspective of Minnesota’s Jewish community, as well as that of mainstream Holocaust and genocide scholars, will be honored,” Steve Hunegs and Ethan Roberts, the executive director and deputy executive director of the JCRC, respectively, said in a statement. “The work of the Center, which has been a close ally of the JCRC and our Jewish community for decades in preserving the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and honoring its survivors and their families, is too important to be led by an extremist. The next Center Director must be a unifying and not divisive figure.”

Segal, a professor at Stockton University in New Jersey, had been offered the position by Ann Waltner, the interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts, which is where the CHGS resides at the university. His appointment led to the resignation of two members of the CHGS advisory board, Karen Painter and Bruno Chaouat.

“Dr. Segal has positioned himself on an extreme end of the political and ideological spectrum with his publications on Israel and Gaza, including an essay in which he accused Israel of genocide a week after the October 7 terrorist attacks,” Painter wrote in her Friday night resignation email to Provost Rachel Croson and Interim President Jeff Ettinger. 

“The CHGS director is ideally a scholar whose principal area of research and public commentary is the Holocaust itself, and certainly should not be an individual publicly identified with extremist positions on the present Middle East war,” she wrote. “We need a center director who will bring our community together to understand how the Holocaust and other genocides occurred, not someone who blames Israel for the rape and murder of 1,200 civilians, and kidnapping of hundreds more.”

Segal has studied the Holocaust in the Carpathians and in Hungary, and focuses his study of the Holocaust as a result of the decline of empires and the building of nation-states in Europe. The focus on nation-states is a central theme in an argument Segal makes that the Holocaust is not unique compared to other genocides.

Segal has had many articles or interviews that many in the Jewish or university community found problematic:

  • Segal wrote in Jewish Currents on Oct. 13, 2023, that Israel’s retaliatory strikes against Hamas positions in Gaza was “a textbook case of genocide.” 
  • Segal has called the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism a tool to suppress all critique of Israel; contends Israel is an apartheid state; and criticized the Israeli defense company Elbit Systems for helping to publish a book distorting the Holocaust in Bulgaria.
  • In a piece he co-authored for Al-Jazeera in January of 2024, Segal called Israel a “settler-colonial” power. 
  • Segal has also wrote that “Israel’s creation reproduced the racism and white supremacy that had targeted Jews for exclusion and, ultimately, destruction in Europe.”
  • In 2022, he authored a piece denying that Jews had a contemporary connection to Israel, writing “Many people believe that Jews today are linked to the ancient Judeans, even though no evidence supports this assertion.”
  • Most recently, in an interview with NJ Spotlight News he defended the anti-Israel campus protestors and encampments, saying that claims of antisemitism were “baseless.”

On Saturday, the University of Minnesota defended the decision of Waltner to offer the position to Segal, saying: “The University follows established hiring processes and procedures in all our searches, including a search committee composed of faculty members and broad consultation among stakeholders throughout the University. Professor Segal, an Israeli native, was enthusiastically recommended by the search committee for this important position.

“As is typical practice, the search committee provided strengths and weaknesses/pros and cons of each candidate it interviewed. The information from the committee and others in the college with whom the Interim Dean consulted showed enthusiastic support for Professor Segal.”

Segal has not responded to emails from TC Jewfolk seeking comment.

Taking action

Since the appointment became known late last week, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakota attempted to activate the community to send emails to push back against Segal. One of those emails, shared with TC Jewfolk, referenced the Friday morning incident at Minnesota Hillel where four windows were shattered.

“How far do the ‘anti-zionists’ need to go before you take Jews seriously, when we say we do not feel safe? That words matter? Where is the condemnation of the hate speech? The vandalism? Assaults? When will you see that dangerous and false speech turns into real action? When will you take action to help us, protect us?” the emailer wrote.

The email echoes the concerns of Jewish students during the encampments at the end of the spring semester, and when there was Pro-Palestinian graffiti on Coffman Union praising “the resistance,” and signs were held at a rally on campus read “Intifada is revolution, is armed struggle; glory to the resistance.”

The Arabic word Intifada translates to “uprising” or “shaking off,” and has been used to describe periods of Palestinian protest against Israel, mainly in the form of violent terrorism. The First Intifada from 1987-1990 and the Second Intifada from 2000-05. 

Abby Kirshbaum, Minnesota Hillel’s assistant director, said in an April press conference that rhetoric on campus has been toxic and students often felt unsafe. 

“The messages our students have experienced around campus, in the classroom, and on social media have marginalized, demonized, and silenced the majority of Jewish voices, and isolated and targeted Jewish students,” she said. “Student groups, faculty, and even off-campus actors are entitled to free speech and academic freedom within the university rules and the city and state laws. But allowing these actors to normalize the idea that October 7 was anything other than an act of terror is further marginalizing Jewish voices and dividing our campus.”

The JCRC statement called for the university to repair the relationship with the Jewish community, not only over this incident, but over the past eight months as the campus has “become a locus of antisemitism.”

“We again implore the University to honor the consensus perspective of our Jewish community by earnestly engaging with representative voices such as the JCRC, Hillel, Chabad, and mainstream Jewish faculty, before making critical decisions concerning Jews, Israel, the Holocaust, and antisemitism,” the JCRC said. “We look forward to working with incoming president Dr. Rebecca Cunningham in ensuring that the University returns to being an institution that honors its Jewish students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the broader Minnesota Jewish community.”