University of Minnesota pauses hiring of professor who called Israel’s war against Hamas ‘a textbook case of genocide’

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The University of Minnesota paused the hiring of a professor who wrote that Israel’s military operation against Hamas in Gaza after Oct. 7 was “a textbook case of genocide” to head the school’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS), Jewish Insider has learned.

The pause, which has not yet been publicly announced by the university, came on Monday evening after two members of the center’s advisory board resigned in protest on Friday.

“The assault on Gaza can also be understood in other terms: as a textbook case of genocide unfolding in front of our eyes,” Raz Segal, an Israeli associate professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Stockton University in New Jersey, wrote in the Jewish Currents on Oct. 13. “I say this as a scholar of genocide, who has spent many years writing about Israeli mass violence against Palestinians,” he wrote.

A spokesperson for the University of Minnesota told JI that the director selection process was put on hold “to allow an opportunity to determine next steps.”

“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,” the spokesperson said. “Because of the community-facing and leadership role the director holds, it is important that these voices are heard.”

Segal, who was selected as the center’s new director by Ann Waltner, the interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts at University of Minnesota, also co-authored an Al-Jazeera article in January, in which he called Israel a “settler-colonial” power. Last month, Segal downplayed the illegal anti-Israel encampments that have engulfed campuses nationwide— many of which have turned violent (nine people were arrested at University of Minnesota’s encampment) — telling NJ Spotlight News that claims of antisemitism were “baseless.”

In 2022, he wrote about “the reality of the system of Israeli apartheid,” stating that “just as the Israeli apartheid system denies Palestinians’ past, it also seeks to deny their future through an assault against Palestinian children.”

The selection of Segal— which also includes a faculty position in the history department— prompted University of Minnesota professors Karen Painter and Bruno Chaouat to resign from the center’s advisory board.

In a letter to Waltner, Provost Rachel Croson and Interim President Jeff Ettinger, a copy of which was obtained by Jewish Insider, Chaouat wrote, “My understanding is that the core mission of the center is to educate locally and internationally on the specific history of the Holocaust and of genocides in order to raise awareness and prevent further dehumanization and violence. Professor Segal, by justifying Hamas’ atrocities five days after they occurred (via a perverse allegation that Israel was committing a genocide), cannot fulfill the mission of the center.”

Chaouat, a professor of French and Jewish studies who previously served as interim director of the center, continued in his letter, “[Segal] has failed to recognize the genocidal intent of Hamas. He does not understand that a movement like Hamas is inherently fascist and represents precisely what CHGS stands against…While I have nothing to say about appointing Professor Segal as a colleague in the History department, my experience as interim director and collaborator of the center for many years, as well as my experience as a scholar of the Holocaust and antisemitism, give me some authority to assertively deem him unfit for that position.”

Segal did not immediately respond to a request for comment from JI. 

Mark Rotenberg, vice president and general counsel of Hillel International who was general counsel and a faculty member at University of Minnesota for 20 years before coming to Hillel, said that the announced appointment of Segal “severely degraded the academic integrity of the department.”

He continued, “It’s terribly distressing to see the Department of Holocaust and Genocide Studes led by an anti-Israel propaganist rather than a top scholar in the history of the eradication of European Jewry.”

Rotenberg said that the announced appointment could “cause long term damage” to the relationship between University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Jewish community. “The Jewish community there has profoundly benefited from, and enhanced, the quality of the university over many decades,” he said. “I fear that the relationship is under deep strain right now.”

Amid rising antisemitism on University of Minnesota’s campus— most recently the vandalism of the school’s Hillel building on Friday morning— Chaouat told JI that it is particularly concerning for the head of a Holocaust and genocide center to downplay antisemitism and accuse the Jewish state of genocide.

“We are witnessing a ‘tokenization’ of Jews and now Israelis,” he said. “Imagine a center for the study of racism appointing a marginal voice in the African American community who opposes Black Lives Matter and who considers that the Minneapolis police not guilty of the murder of George Floyd.”