The University of Minnesota’s Cynical Holocaust Studies Hire

[Posted by the CAMERA Education Institute]

The University of Minnesota is set to hire, as its new director for the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, an individual who would serve better as a case study on the persistence of genocidal antisemitism than as credible researcher of it.

The prospective hire is Raz Segal, a professor at Stockton University. The university’s apparent decision to bring him on exemplifies not just the erosion of credibility and professionalism in academia, but also the role universities are playing in fueling the surge in antisemitism on campuses and beyond.

A more comprehensive background on Segal has already been written by Lonny Goldsmith and Lev Gringauz at TC Jewfolk, but a couple of salient details are worth highlighting here. These details help illustrate why Segal is such an inappropriate choice for a center purportedly committed to addressing the causes of the worst instance of antisemitic violence, the Holocaust.

First, Segal refers to Israelis as “settler colonizers.” He also believes that “Israel’s creation reproduced the racism and white supremacy that had targeted Jews for exclusion and, ultimately, destruction in Europe.” These claims are unbecoming of any serious academic simply on a factual basis; Jews are indigenous to the land, as overwhelming archaeological and other evidence attests to. Moreover, Segal’s depiction of Jewish Israelis as purveyors of “white supremacy” flies in the face of Israel’s actual demographics, the plurality of which are Jews from Middle Eastern and African lands.

More importantly, however, is that Segal’s claims depict the Jews as the enemy of contemporary values. Consider the words of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on the manifestation of antisemitism over history:

Throughout history, when people have sought to justify antisemitism, they have done so by recourse to the highest source of authority available within the culture. In the Middle Ages, it was religion. So we had religious anti-Judaism. In post-Enlightenment Europe it was science. So we had the twin foundations of Nazi ideology, Social Darwinism and the so-called Scientific Study of Race. Today the highest source of authority worldwide is human rights.

Enter what Einat Wilf refers to as the “placard strategy,” an equation meant to align Jews in popular imagination with the greatest contemporary evils. “On one side is the word ‘Israel’ or ‘Zionism,’ or even merely an image of the Star of David,” and on the other side are words like “apartheid,” “genocide,” or – as employed by Segal – “racism” and “settler colonialism.” It works as a form of negative exceptionalism for Jews, depicting them as a unique evil by exploiting the language of the “highest source of authority” in contemporary society, “human rights.” Of course, the inevitable conclusion is that the source of evil must be fought and destroyed.

By engaging in this strategy, and by using such factually challenged and intellectually dishonest arguments to do so, Segal is engaging in the latest manifestation of the same antisemitic phenomenon that has led to the massacre of Jews throughout history.

The second important detail about Segal’s background is that he regularly downplays and even denies the prevalence of antisemitism, in particular at the university protests. He additionally believes that efforts to combat antisemitism, like the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, are just tools to suppress criticism of Israel.

These claims also fly in the face of objective reality, further exposing Segal’s lack of seriousness as a scholar. The protests have been rife with antisemitism, from protestors accosting Jewish students with phrases like “Bullshit prophets, y’all just want the profit,” shouting “The Holocaust should have happened, free Palestine,” telling them to “go back to Poland” and that “You have no culture, all you do is colonize,” signs with the Star of David crossed out, a Star of David being pierced with a flag in the colors of the Palestinian flag, assaulting Jews and calling them “Talmudic devils,” protestors roaming around campus asking “Where the Jews at,” and so on and so forth.

Once again, Segal is trafficking a negative exceptionalism for Jews. Ignoring the overwhelming evidence of the surge in antisemitism, Segal depicts well-founded Jewish fears as instead being a collective, sinister plot designed to enable the modern Jewish collective to continue getting away with all of those evils Segal associates with them.

So here we have a “scholar” with a record of distorting the facts in such a way that associates the Jewish people with the greatest ills of the contemporary world. One could mistake this description for those behind the medieval blood libels, the authors of the forged “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” or those who purveyed the false Nazi racial theories. To hire such an individual for such a position shows either a tremendous lack of judgment and/or a disturbing level of cynicism on the part of the university’s leadership.

That Segal may himself be Jewish is of little consequence; historically, individual Jews have often played a role in fueling the denigration, exclusion, and oppression of their fellow Jews. Whether or not he understands the hatred he is fueling is likewise irrelevant. The fact remains the University of Minnesota’s interim dean, Ann Waltner, appears set to place him in this position of influence, notwithstanding his radical, fringe views at a time when Jews are experiencing alarming rates of attacks on campuses and elsewhere.

The Center’s mission statement reads: “Our mission 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.” Should Waltner press ahead with hiring Segal, one thing will be certain: either the Center failed in its mission or Waltner failed the Center.

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