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How to destroy a Holocaust studies center

Simply do what UMN did: Appoint a new head of the center who spews widely discredited theories and accuses Israel of genocide
Raz Segal, October 25, 2023. (NJ Spotlight News/PBS screenshot via JTA)
Raz Segal, October 25, 2023. (NJ Spotlight News/PBS screenshot via JTA)

Until about a week ago, there is no particular reason why anyone outside Minnesota or immersed in the somewhat esoteric field of the social history of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century China should ever have heard of Ann Waltner, the outgoing interim dean of the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts (UMN).

But now, by appointing Raz Segal, a far-left rabidly anti-Israel and anti-Zionist associate professor at New Jersey’s Stockton University, to head UMN’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Waltner has become a leading candidate for the hot seat at a congressional hearing investigating rampant antisemitism on American university and college campuses.

Who is Segal and why is his appointment – now apparently put on hold by UMN’s higher ups before it becomes a total fiasco for them – so inherently outrageous? Segal is an Israeli, a Jew, who received B.A. and M.A degrees at Israeli universities before getting a Ph.D. at Clark University, and who holds himself out as a Holocaust scholar. According to his bio on the Stockton website, he “is engaged in his work with the challenges of exploring the Holocaust as an integral part of late modern processes of imperial collapse, the formation and occasional de-formation of nation-states, and their devastating impact on the societies they sought – and still seek – to break and remake.”

In other words, for starters, Segal considers the Holocaust not as the systematic annihilation of European Jews that was fueled by deep-rooted antisemitic bigotry but rather as “an integral part” and consequence of some type of imperial collapse and post-imperial “formation and occasional de-formation of nation states.”

Huh? I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either, but perhaps the good folks at Stockton have some idea of what he is talking about.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: my grandparents, my brother, virtually my parents’ entire respective families, were murdered at the hands of Nazi Germany and its multinational acolytes only and exclusively because they were Jews. So were the millions of other Jews who were similarly killed throughout German-occupied territories during World War II. Attempting to pigeonhole that genocide into some sort of anti-imperial geopolitical pseudo-theory is not only wrongheaded: it is eerily reminiscent of longstanding Soviet attempts to de-judaize the Holocaust, as it were, by refusing to recognize the Jewish identity of its victims.

Of course, Segal has the right to spew widely discredited theories as an academic or as an anti-Israel political partisan. But his approach toward the Holocaust as set forth, presumably by Segal himself, on his Stockton bio should be more than enough to disqualify him from even being considered to head a Holocaust and genocide center anywhere, let alone at a major university.

But wait, there’s more. Much more.

Ever since the Oct. 7, 2023 slaughter of approximately 1,200 Israeli Jews by the Hamas terrorist organization on the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border, Segal has embarked on a campaign that perversely attempts to depict Israel – not Hamas – as the aggressor.

In an article published on Oct. 13, 2023, less than one week after the Oct. 7 carnage, Segal referred to the retaliatory – and wholly legitimate under international law – military campaign launched by Israel against Hamas not only “as a textbook case of genocide unfolding in front of our eyes” but – in his obsessively single-minded and biased worldview – as merely another chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hearkening back to what he presumably considers the illegitimate establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 which he insists on referring to as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, the term used by Palestinian and pro-Palestinian partisans to delegitimize the Jewish state.

In the same article, Segal identified himself as “as a scholar of genocide, who has spent many years writing about Israeli mass violence against Palestinians,”

This certainly clears up any possible remaining ambiguity. And it begs the question of how and why he could have ever been seriously considered for, let alone appointed as, the director of UMN’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Needless to say, Minnesota’s Jewish community is outraged, as are the many family members and friends of Holocaust survivors who believe – rightly so – that Segal’s presence at the center would desecrate the memory of the victims of the Shoah and violate the very mission of the center – namely “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.” Understandably, two members of the center’s board have resigned in protest against handing the center over to someone who insists on perverting the legacy of the Holocaust into consistent attacks on Israel which he deems to be an apartheid state.

Segal disingenuously depicted Israel’s legitimate self-defense against Hamas in order to prevent any repetition of the Oct. 7 pogrom as “Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza,” but only referred, almost in passing, in his aforementioned Oct. 13 article to “Hamas’s attack on [Oct. 7] and the mass murder of more than 1,000 Israeli civilians” without bothering to point out that not just the Oct. 7 horrors but Hamas’ very reason for existing, according to the terms of its charter, are genocidal in nature.

There would, of course, be no problem whatsoever with having the center headed by someone who is critical – even sharply critical – of the policies of the Netanyahu government, or of any other Israeli government for that matter. I, for one, consider the ultranationalist views expressed by members of Netanyahu’s government, and often by Netanyahu himself, to be abhorrent. So do hundreds of thousands of Israelis who demonstrate regularly in the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and elsewhere in Israel demanding accelerated elections. They are an essential part of a democratic society. Segal’s radical views, on the other hand, lie so far outside the mainstream as to constitute a Hamas-like endorsement for the genocidal elimination of the State of Israel.

Segal left no doubt as to his warped interpretation of history when he wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed on January 27 that “Israel’s creation reproduced the racism and white supremacy that had targeted Jews for exclusion and, ultimately, destruction in Europe.”

He also epitomizes the insensitive mindset that has empowered hostile anti-Zionist faculty and students in encampments on campuses across the US to vent their spleen against the Jewish state virtually unchecked, resulting in antisemitic verbal vitriol being hurled at Jewish students for merely believing in Israel’s right to exist. Segal has been a vocal supporter of these protests, falsely dismissing charges of antisemitism at some of the encampments as “baseless.”

Small wonder that the UMN administration must now be furiously looking for a way, any way, to jettison Segal and distance themselves from this wholly foreseeable unforced error. UMN doesn’t need such an unmitigated disaster. No one does.

About the Author
Adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School and lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School.
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