Israeli defenders defeat Holocaust scholar

Dr. Raz Segal


Few months in University of Minnesota history, if any, were like June, with Raz Segal seemingly on his way to the Twin Cities to run the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS), only to see the deal killed by university officials.
The University of Minnesota appeared to acquire Segal, an Israeli historian, a program director at the Refugee Studies Initiative at Stockton University and genocide scholar, after the CHGS program director position was left vacant for three years.
But two faculty members who serve on the CHGS board, Karen Painter and Bruno Chaouat, took issue with Segal’s article, “A Textbook Case of Genocide,” published in Jewish Currents a week after the Oct. 7 attacks and everything was nixed.
“Israel’s campaign to displace Gazans—and potentially expel them altogether into Egypt—is yet another chapter in the Nakba, in which an estimated 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes during the 1948 war that led to the creation of the State of Israel,” Segal wrote. “But the assault on Gaza can also be understood in other terms: as a textbook case of genocide unfolding in front of our eyes.”
The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), Painter and Chaouat were quickly considered deal-killers who caught the eye of university leaders and alerted them, in a letter, that Segal’s views are unfit to lead the center.
“He does not understand that a movement like Hamas is inherently fascist and represents what CHGS stands against,” Chaouat wrote in a letter to university administrators. “Finally, he does not understand the specificity of the history of antisemitism—which, as you will easily concede, is a sine qua non to educate the community and our students about the extermination of the Jews.”
“JCRC welcomes today’s announcement by Interim President Jeff Ettinger that the search for the next director for the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies will start fresh and that there are currently no outstanding offers for the directorship,” JCRC wrote in an official response to the university’s decision to withdraw Segal’s job offer.
Jewish Voices for Peace Twin Cities (JVP)—a progressive  advocacy organization that challenges the link between Judaism and Israel—offered a different opinion.
“As Minnesota Jews we are deeply concerned by the dangerous precedent set by the University of Minnesota in pausing the appointment of Dr. Raz Segal the position of Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS),” JVP Twin Cities wrote in a statement. “To attempt to silence an Israeli, Jewish scholar of holocaust and genocide studies is beyond the pale. Many other scholars of holocaust and genocide studies, the Internal Criminal Court and International Court of Justice have called what is happening in Gaza by its name: genocide.”
Outside groups, like the JCRC, had swayed university leaders to renege a job offer to Segal and even suppressed Jewish voices, argued JVP.
“The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) does not represent all Jews in the Twin Cities, let alone the majority, and the outside influence they’ve exerted on this hiring process is unacceptable,” JVP wrote. “We expect an institution of University of Minnesota’s caliber to trust the expert who himself knows the real dangers of antisemitism to end their disruption of this hiring process.”
Legal scholars, advocacy groups and faculty told Southside Pride that pulling Segal’s job offer for political viewpoints violates free speech rights and academic freedom and contradicts university policy.
Sumanth Gopinath is president of the University of Minnesota’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a nonprofit advocacy group pushing for academic freedom.
“The fact that his political positions have been used to prevent him from accepting a position that was offered to him, because of the intervention of the upper administration, is a very bad precedent,” Gopinath said.
The pause and revoking a job offer means “political actors can lobby a president and the president will side with them,” Gopinath said. “Which means that there effectively could be a political litmus test when a position is offered or not.”
Liliana Zaragoza, is an associate professor of clinical law at the University of Minnesota and member of Faculty, Librarians, Alumni, Graduate Students and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FLAGS JP).
“The hiring process was completely ordinary, and it already includes community input,” Zaragoza said. “It’s like the president is responding to outside influence and isn’t following the normal academic processes.”
Zach Greenberg is a program officer and attorney at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a nonpartisan free speech advocacy organization and legal defense fund.
“We’re concerned about universities applying political litmus tests to faculty hiring,” Greenberg said. “It’s problematic if universities discriminate against and refuse to hire them based on their ideas and viewpoints. This professor was hired, satisfied the academic requirements for this academic position as leader of the center, and because of political ramifications, oppositions to his viewpoints, that process is now being paused.”
Segal shared these same warnings with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.
“So, the JCRC here is also doing a very dangerous thing, feeding into these ideas about Jewish power and influence and intervention here,” said Segal. “And it’s simply false. They had an opportunity to provide feedback in the regular hiring process.”
Sima Shakhsari is assistant professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota. Shakhsari was stoked to hear about Segal’s hiring.
“I was very excited, not only because of his stance on genocide, but because of his defense of a colleague,” Shakhsari said.
Shakshari’s colleague Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkianis is a feminist scholar whose work focuses on genocide, surveillance and gender violence at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Hebrew University suspended Kevorkianis for saying Israel is committing genocide and Israeli police detained her for comments made on a podcast. Segal cosigned a letter urging Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to protect her amid jail conditions described as, “a cold prison cell infested with insects.”
Segal’s non-hire is part of a troubling trend where any commitment to Palestinian liberation will cost you a job.
In 2014, The University of Illinois revoked a job offer to Steven Salaita, who posted critical comments about Israeli Prime Minister on Twitter. This eventually cost the University of Illinois more than $2 million, including an $875,000 settlement. This was after the American Association of University Professors censured the university. Joshua Clover, a professor of English and Comparative Literature at University of California, Davis, is pressing academics to speak more openly about their support for Palestinians.
Trouble started for Salaita when he posted critical tweets about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ten years later Clover followed up in charming fashion. This time directed at the university.
“At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?” Salaita posted. “#Gaza”
“What is striking for us this year is how entirely desperate universities are to avoid one single specific truth: that there is a genocide happening, in which the US and US universities are participants,” Clover said.
“Only #Israel can murder around 300 children in the span of a few weeks and insist that it is the victim,” Salaita posted.
“Given the university’s existence as an investment bloc and real estate concern with a sideline in education, it’s a miracle, or an accident, that anyone with an interest in truth is ever hired,” Clover said.
“If you’re defending #Israel right now you’re an awful human being,” Salaita posted.
A real meeting of the minds, you see.
“What has happened to Professor Segal is repugnant. But we should all sit for a moment with the terror of Karen Painter and Bruno Chaouat, who resigned from the advisory board—sit with their anxiety, their desperation to please some authority, their terror that the truth might spread,” Clover said. “They are the least free people I can imagine.”

Editor’s note: The University Faculty Senate voted to express no confidence in interim President Jeff Ettinger over his decision to pause the hiring of a new director for the U’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies on Wednesday, June 26.

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