Fresh Start Announced In Search For Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Director

The search for a new director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies will start fresh, likely in the 2025-26 school year, Interim President Jeff Ettinger announced during his president’s report at the June 14 Board of Regents meeting.

Raz Segal, a professor at Stockton University in New Jersey, had been offered the job on June 5 by Ann Waltner, the interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts, which is where the CHGS resides at the university. On June 9, TC Jewfolk first reported the offer to Segal, which led to the resignations of Karen Painter and Bruno Chaouat from the CHGS advisory board, and a letter-writing campaign led by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas to protest the hiring. On June 10, Ettinger announced the search was “paused.”

The search committee for the Stephen C. Feinstein Chair in Holocaust and Genocide Studies was made up only of academics, which Ettinger found fault with.

“Because of the community facing and leadership role the director holds, I determined it was important that these voices be heard,” he said. Ettinger confirmed that no employment offers for the directorship are currently outstanding. He added that the withdrawal of any offer to Segal was for the center directorship only.

“Decisions over offers to join the faculty to teach and conduct research in this field, as with all faculty positions in any field, are rightly made by the faculty themselves,” Ettinger said. “Those faculty discussions are ongoing, and I fully honor the faculty’s judgment as to the scholarly qualifications appropriate for that role.

Ettinger acknowledged that his decision on June 10 to pause the search was unusual.

“It is clear that there are many Minnesota communities and stakeholders who care deeply about the work of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and want to see it succeed,” Ettinger said. “And we look forward to engaging them in the search for the next director.”

One of those groups is expected to be the JCRC, which has worked closely with the CHGS for many years, most recently when it came to writing the language for the Holocaust education standards and benchmarks for state schools. In passing a state mandate on Holocaust and other genocide education, the JCRC lobbied for the CHGS to join it as co-chairs of the working group. When Alejandro Baer was hired as director in 2012, JCRC Executive Director Steve Hunegs was on the search committee.

“The JCRC welcomes today’s announcement from Interim President Ettinger, and that Segal won’t be the next director of the CHGS is a relief to the vast majority of the Jewish community,” said JCRC Deputy Executive Director Ethan Roberts. “The commitment that the new search will have robust community engagement is absolutely appropriate, and something that our community had asked for. We’re thankful that we were heard.”

Roberts thanked the members of the community for contacting the university to help spur the change.

“The community called and emailed by the hundreds,” Roberts said. “We have heard from the university in multiple conversations how much they heard from our community. I’ve read many of these letters: They were thoughtful, passionate and respectful. It remains a privilege to be the consensus voice for this astonishingly resilient community.”

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.”

Segal did not respond to emails from TC Jewfolk seeking comment. In a phone interview with MPR News in which he said he still would like to take the position despite the controversy that ensued, stood by his Oct. 13 article.

“They’re concerned about absolute loyalty to Israel, and they’re narrowing down Jewish identity to loyalty to a violent state,” Segal said.

The university will initiate a new international search for the next director; Joe Eggers has agreed to stay on as interim director. The delay in starting, Ettinger said, is because of “many other leadership transitions at the university.” Roberts said the delay will be useful in giving space between the search and what will hopefully be the end of the current Israel-Hamas war.

“The university will ensure that this new search includes a robust community engagement plan that considers multiple points of view internal and external to the university, including the participation of community members on the search committee,” Ettinger said.

Statement from the Feinstein family

The Feinstein family wholly supports the decision made by Interim President Ettinger to delay the search for the Stephen C. Feinstein Chair in Holocaust and Genocide Studies until the 2025-2026 academic year. We are grateful for the President’s highlighting that the position to direct the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) entails a community-facing leadership role of deep importance to the Jewish and Zionist communities. We support the President’s decision to include community members in the hiring committee and selection process and hope this means mainstream members of the Jewish and Zionist communities.

The recent hiring process for the Stephen C. Feinstein Chair underscores the paradigm shift from the era of the original founding of the Center to the political-charged divisiveness that now lies deep in the academic community, even in the field of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. In today’s marginalizing environment, the constitution of the search committee purposely prevented the Center’s multiple community stakeholders from being involved in the hiring process. These would include representatives for Holocaust survivors and children of survivors, survivors of other genocides, the Jewish community, the Minnesota churches, the Armenian community, the Rwandan community, and the donors.

My father, Dr. Stephen Feinstein, would have been appalled and outraged if the University of Minnesota had hired someone like Raz Segal, who, according to Segal’s statements, appears to not believe in the existence of the democratic Jewish State of Israel and does not support the values of the mainstream Jews. Dr. Feinstein would have wanted a candidate who supports the founding mission of the center, focusing on education about the Holocaust and other genocides in ways that are accessible to all communities but not at the exclusion of Jews and Israelis.

The mission of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies is to provide the critical foundation and analytical tools to understand and effectively address the causes, impacts, and legacies of the Holocaust, genocides, and incidents of mass violence.

During his lifetime, Dr. Feinstein believed that a person could be Jewish, support the democratic Jewish State of Israel, and advocate for a two-state solution, while also supporting the human rights of others. Dr. Feinstein once said, “To end genocide, we must study it and understand how it works against what we call ‘civilization.’” Furthermore, he believed that the history of the Holocaust and other genocides had wide implications in everyday life.

Growing up in Minnesota, I would spend weekends with my father cleaning swastikas off the walls of our synagogue and Jewish Community Center or gathering furniture for the newly arriving Soviet immigrants who were seeking refuge in Minnesota from antisemitism. During his tenure as CHGS director, Dr. Feinstein was the first person the media would turn to for a response following antisemitic events in Minnesota, such as the 2002 federal class-action lawsuit (Zmora v. State of Minnesota) at St. Cloud State University that brought national attention to the campus and stained its reputation with antisemitism. He was also approached to find a solution, such as creating and funding a Jewish Studies Department at St. Cloud State, where Rabbi Joseph Edelheit taught courses, including “Antisemitism in America” and “Christian Theology,” to help prevent such events from happening in the future.

With rising antisemitism after the October 7th tragedy, Dr. Feinstein would have been the first to speak up, protect Jewish faculty and students, and fight antisemitism on campus. As Director of CHGS, he would have advocated that the University of Minnesota adopt and uphold the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism:

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

As the University moves forward with a new search, we recommend that the leadership and hiring committee continue to be mindful about the founding mission and vision of the Center, as conceived and designed by Dr. Feinstein together with donors Myron and Anita Kunin, which included fighting modern-day antisemitism and all forms of bigotry. Since the directorship is a community-facing position, we also recommend that the Center continue to engage their multiple community stakeholders in the hiring process, including those from the mainstream Jewish and Zionist community.


Susan, Jeremy, and Rebecca Feinstein