Outcry prompts pause of controversial hire to lead U of M’s Holocaust center

The professor accused Israel of genocide a week after the Oct. 7 attacks.

University of Minnesota students walk across the Twin Cities campus on Oct. 16, 2023. (Hayley Feland/Alpha News)

(The Minnesota Republic) — On the evening of Friday, June 7, the University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies suddenly lost two members of its advisory board when Karen Painter and Bruno Chaouat emailed letters of resignation to Provost Rachel Croson and Interim President Jeff Ettinger to protest the hiring of a controversial new director of the center.

In a move that left observers in dismay, Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Ann Waltner offered the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies directorship to Raz Segal, a professor at Stockton University.

Why is Segal controversial? In a nutshell: Segal argues that the Holocaust is not unique compared to other genocides, and according to Painter, he “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.”

The essay to which Painter referred in her letter was entitled “A Textbook Case of Genocide,” and was published in Jewish Currents. The essay argued that, by fighting back after the Oct. 7 attacks, Israel was guilty of committing genocide against Gazans.

Painter included the preceding remarks in her resignation letter. She also wrote, “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. 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.”

Chaouat wrote, referencing Segal’s Jewish Currents essay, “Professor Segal, by justifying Hamas’s atrocities … (via a perverse allegation that Israel was committing a genocide), cannot fulfill the mission of the Center.”

Chaouat also wrote, “[Segal] has failed to recognize the genocidal intent of Hamas … [H]e 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.”

The news from the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies drew the ire of many people across Minnesota, including leaders and supporters of the state’s most prominent conservative think tank, Center of the American Experiment.

In a timely coincidence, just one day before Painter and Chaouat resigned their positions on the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Advisory Board, Center of the American Experiment hosted former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as the keynote speaker for the organization’s annual fundraising gala at The Depot in downtown Minneapolis. Hundreds of attendees, including several current University of Minnesota students, were encouraged by the prime minister to speak out against antisemitic injustices in the community.

In an email to the organization’s thousands of supporters, Center of the American Experiment wrote, “[An] injustice is emerging right now at the University of Minnesota as the interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts announced the hiring of Raz Segal to head the U of M’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Segal is a college professor from New Jersey who actually accused Israel of genocide in the weeks after the October 7th massacre by Hamas terrorists. Segal is the wrong person at the wrong time to head up Minnesota’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies department. This decision of the interim dean should be overturned by university leadership immediately.”

In the email, Center of the American Experiment included a link to a petition urging University of Minnesota Interim President Jeffrey Ettinger and the Board of Regents to overturn Segal’s appointment.

In the face of the public outrage, Ettinger was quick to announce on Monday, June 10, that he paused the search for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies director “to allow an opportunity to determine next steps” after “additional members of the University community [came] forward to express their interest in providing perspective on the hiring.”

“It is important that these voices are heard,” the University said.

This article was originally published at The Minnesota Republic


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