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Holocaust Scholar Loses Job Offer After Calling Out Genocide in Gaza

Raz Segal says he was targeted as a “Jew who refuses the narrowing down of Jewish identity to Zionism.”

We speak with Israeli American Jewish scholar Raz Segal about the University of Minnesota’s move to rescind a job offer over his comments early in the war on Gaza, when he characterized the Israeli assault as a “textbook case of genocide.” Segal was set to lead the university’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, but after two board members quit in opposition to Segal’s selection and a smear campaign led by the pro-Israel group Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), the school revoked the offer. Segal says he has been “targeted because of my identity as a Jew who refuses the narrowing down of Jewish identity to Zionism” and calls the JCRC-led opposition a “hateful campaign of lies and distortions” and “crude political intervention.” “This was a completely legitimate hiring process,” states Segal. He says rescission of his offer “spells the end of this idea of free inquiry, of academic freedom, of research and teaching — and all in the service, of course, of supporting an extremely violent state.”

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We turn now to the acclaimed Holocaust and genocide scholar Raz Segal. Eight months ago, the Israeli American historian became one of the first scholars to accuse Israel of committing genocide in Gaza. Professor Segal laid out his case in a widely read article for Jewish Currents headlined “A Textbook Case of Genocide.” The piece’s subtitle was “Israel has been explicit about what it’s carrying out in Gaza. Why isn’t the world listening?” Professor Segal went on to give numerous interviews, including to us on Democracy Now!

RAZ SEGAL: We need to recognize what’s going on around us, what’s unfolding in front of our eyes, which is really a textbook case of genocide, with the rhetoric, with the actions, with everything involved.

AMY GOODMAN: Raz Segal’s description of Israel’s war on Gaza as a genocide has now cost him a job. Last week, the University of Minnesota withdrew an offer to Segal for him to head the school’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, after two of the center’s board members resigned to protest his hiring. The school’s decision also came after the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas launched a campaign to block professor Segal from getting the job. The group described him as a, quote, “extremist.”

Raz Segal joins us now. He’s currently associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University in New Jersey, an endowed professor in the study of modern genocide. He’s joining us from Bulgaria.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Professor Segal. Can you explain exactly what happened? And is there a chance you will be reoffered this job?

RAZ SEGAL: Thank you, Amy, for inviting me again to the show.

What happened is that there was a completely regular hiring process in a public university. There was a public announcement of the job. There were applications. There were Zoom interviews. There were campus visits. There was actually significant community engagement also during this process. And then, eventually, the search committee deliberated and made a recommendation to hire me to the interim dean, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. I was then, on the 5th of June, sent an official job offer.

And then, as you described, two professors who were formerly on the advisory committee of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota resigned and, together with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, put a lot of pressure, which was really a hateful campaign of lies and distortions against me and based on their political position in support of Israel. And on 10th of June — so within days, right? — the interim president of the University of Minnesota sent me an email withdrawing the job offer.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in that letter of withdrawal, did the interim president give a reason?

RAZ SEGAL: Yeah. He said that due to the public-facing role of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and its director, community members have come forward with some concerns. And that was given as the reason for the withdrawal. And it’s important to say, of course, that this is a crude and very dangerous political — the legitimization — right? — of a political interference in an absolutely legitimate hiring process in a public university. It’s, you know, completely unacceptable that a political pressure group, the JCRC of Minnesota and the Dakotas here, and a political position, of support of Zionism and the state of Israel — right? — especially, of course, at a time when Israel is committing the crime of genocide for eight months now, right? But regardless, actually, any political position, any pressure group is not a criteria — should not the defining factor in a hiring process, and certainly once an official job offer has been made.

This actually might be a case of discrimination, because I’m targeted here specifically as an Israeli American Jew, and I’m targeted because of my identity as a Jew who refuses the narrowing down of Jewish identity to Zionism and to support of Israel, whatever it does, which is the position of the JCRC of Minnesota and the Dakotas in its claim to speak for all Jews in the Twin Cities, which is absolutely false. I mean, I’ve received hundreds, hundreds of emails in support, including from many Jews in the Twin Cities, who say explicitly that the JCRC does not speak for them, does not represent them. A community letter from within and outside the university in Twin Cities, again including many, many Jews, have now attracted more than 500 signatures. There’s also a letter of scholars from around the world, including many in the University of Minnesota, of course, that has attracted about a thousand signatures, maybe a bit more, in support of me. So, this idea that the JCRC speaks for all Jews — right? — is absolutely false.

But again, this kind of crude political intervention in the hiring process, and its legitimization by the university, is extremely dangerous. It joins this attack that we’re seeing in the academic world, that has intensified since October, of really suppressing academic freedom. And this is a very, very dangerous sign. That’s the reason that students and faculty members across the University of Minnesota, not only in the College of Liberal Arts, are furious at this decision of their interim president and are not willing to accept it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And among the people who have been supporting you have been some scholars in Israel who may not agree with your characterization of what Israel is doing in Gaza as genocide but still believe that you’re being treated unfairly?

RAZ SEGAL: Absolutely. The letter of the scholars that I mentioned, that has, again, a bit more than a thousand signatures right now, has many, actually — many Jewish scholars, of course, but many Israeli Jewish scholars in universities in Israel. Many of them do not necessarily agree with my interpretation of Israel’s attack on Gaza, but understand the very dangerous precedent here, you know, and are very fearful of the implications. And, of course, what we’re seeing in terms of suppression of academic freedom in Israel is in many ways related to this, so I think that’s also in their minds. But, yes, many Israeli Jewish scholars also support me.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I’m just looking at Minnesota Public Radio. They said hundreds of professors have signed a letter condemning the university’s decision. The University of Minnesota’s chapter of the American Association of University, AAU, sent a letter to the administration. And then, looking at a response from the spokesperson for the University of Minnesota, they said, “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. Because of the community-facing and leadership role the director holds, it is important that these voices are heard.” So, if you can respond to that? And also, Professor Segal, they’re still offering you what? An assistant professorship at the University of Minnesota, but withdrew your offer as director, or not?

RAZ SEGAL: No, no, no, no. The day, on 10th of June, when the interim president withdrew the entire offer, all of it, I was still — the provost called me and said that the university is still interested in offering me the academic position in the history department of tenured associate professor. That’s what was in the original offer, as well. But I have not yet received any revised offer. So, currently, what — the situation currently is that the official offer was officially withdrawn, and there’s nothing besides that at this point. That’s one issue.

Look, the response of the university is ridiculous. This was a completely — of the leadership of the university. It’s important to say. As I said, faculty and students across the university, overwhelmingly — I mean, professor Painter and Chaouat, the two professors who resigned from the advisory board of the center and started this scandal — right? — are absolutely unrepresentative of faculty and students at the university. And they are furious at this, because everyone knows — everyone knows — that this was a completely legitimate hiring process. It was actually public. It also actually had a lot of community outreach — right? — for people to come to the job talk, which was public. People could come, and people indeed came, also joined via Zoom, and provide feedback, provide their responses. You know, I met with a lot of people when I was in the campus visits here. So, the response of the university as if now, after an official job offer, after a professional and academic hiring process had been concluded and the job offer was made, now we need community consultation is simply in order to blur a clear truth in front of everyone’s eyes that the JCRC here, again, claiming falsely to represent all Jews, is putting political pressure in a very dangerous way on a public university, which is absolutely unacceptable.

It’s also important to say that this is a — the center directorship, this is a center in Holocaust and genocide studies. It’s not only about Jews. What about Indigenous communities, Native communities, which are very important in Minnesota? What about Armenians, which we have many, many communities of forcibly displaced and refugees in the Twin Cities, right? Again, the idea — this also is very, very dangerous, because it feeds into antisemitic ideas about Jewish power and influence, right? So, the JCRC here is also doing a very dangerous thing, feeding into these ideas about Jewish power and influence and intervention here. And it’s simply false. They had an opportunity to provide feedback in the regular hiring process.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor, I wanted to ask you about their broader picture of the enormous damage done to American universities in the last year as a result of people speaking out against the Israeli attack and genocide in Gaza — for example, the university presidents hauled before Congress and basically all having to state that they believe that opposing Zionism is antisemitic, the clamp downs on student protests, the rights of students to even hold protests on universities, the mass arrests that have occurred in so many universities. What is the impact of all of this on the idea of a liberal university?

RAZ SEGAL: Yeah, I mean, it spells the end of this idea of free inquiry, of academic freedom, of research and teaching — and all in the service, of course, of supporting an extremely violent state, a state now conducting a destructive assault for eight months on Gaza, genocide or not. I mean, I firmly believe that we’re witnessing a genocidal assault. But even if we’re not, I mean an extremely violent assault. There is a case of genocide against Israel in the International Court of Justice. The chief prosecutor of International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, has requested arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on war crimes and crimes against humanity. I mean, an international outcry. Dozens of Holocaust and genocide studies scholars, not only me, who have spoken about genocide in Israel’s attack on Gaza, or at least a serious risk of genocide in Israel’s attack on Gaza. So, all this in the service of supporting a violent state and also supporting, again, this very dangerous idea that the only way to be Jews today is to be Zionists and to support Israel.

And as I said, actually, the opposite is the truth. It’s not that criticizing Israel is antisemitism. Not at all. Criticizing the people who criticize Israel in this way, this is antisemitic. This is an attack on Jewish identities. This is an attack, actually, on people who are aiming to criticize a violent state in order to protect a group facing state violence, which is actually very much in line with the historical struggle against antisemitism. So, this is really a world turned upside down. And in the frame of this world turned upside down, we also see the end of the academic world, of academic freedom, of free inquiry, of teaching and research. It’s very, very, very dangerous. And that’s why so many people in the University to Minnesota, across actually the academic world in the U.S. and around the world — right? — within and outside academia, are actually mobilizing now in support of me. But this is, you know, not about me anymore, right? This has far more significant implications and consequences.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about Israeli politician, the former Likud member of parliament, Moshe Feiglin, who Sunday favorably quoted Adolf Hitler while arguing in a TV interview in Israel for the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza. He said, “As Hitler said, ‘I cannot live if one Jew is left,’” Feiglin said during a panel discussion on Channel 12, Israel’s channel, he said, “we can’t live here if one Islamo-Nazi remains in Gaza.” Professor Segal, your response and the significance of these comments, as well as Netanyahu possibly coming to address a joint session of Congress in July?

RAZ SEGAL: I mean, what is there — what is there more — what is there more to say, right? It’s all in front of our eyes: the utter destruction of Gaza, this genocidal discourse, these expressions of genocide that we’ve been exposed to and we’re witnessing since October. This is really — Israel is a society awash now in genocidal discourse, full of war criminals.

And yet, the support of the United States in this genocidal state, in its attack on Gaza, just continues and continues. And, of course, the reason is that if we need to come to terms with Israeli settler colonialism, with this idea that there can’t remain Palestinians — right? — in Israel, that Moshe Feiglin has articulated via Hitler — right? — if we need to come to terms with Israeli settler colonialism since ’48, and actually even before it, until Israel’s destructive assault on Gaza, that really means that we have to come to terms with settler colonialism more broadly, also in the United States and in other places. And who wants to do — who wants to do that? And that’s why we’re seeing — that’s part of the reason also that we’re seeing this horrific attack also against Jews right now intensifying more and more, including against me in this case — right? — because anything in order not to really come to terms, to open this Pandora’s box for the West of settler colonialism and settler-colonial genocide that we’re all witnessing now. This is the reason that the Biden administration continues to support Israel, whatever happens.

AMY GOODMAN: Raz Segal, we want to thank you so much for being with us, Israeli American historian. Earlier this month, the University of Minnesota rescinded its offer to him to head its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. He’s currently associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University and endowed professor in the study of modern genocide.

That does it for our show. A very fond farewell to our digital fellow Eric Halvarson and our interns Soledad Aguilar-Colón and Hannah Fitz. We will miss you so, so much. You are now part of our DNA, the Democracy Now! alumni. We’re currently accepting applications for director of development. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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