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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


The University of Minnesota's recent decision to pause the hiring process for director of its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies — after first offering a job to an Israeli historian whose appointment drew controversy — was correct but not without cost.

The turn of events further illustrates the reach of the conflagration triggered by last October's murderous attacks on Israeli citizens by Hamas, which has governed Gaza since 2007 without subsequent elections and which several nations consider a terrorist organization, and by Israel's subsequent invasion of Gaza, which has led to tens of thousands of civilian deaths and which many consider a genocide. The Star Tribune Editorial Board understands Israel's need to neutralize the Hamas threat but is disheartened by the disproportionality of the response and cannot discern an acceptable long-term plan for Gaza by the current Israeli government. The board also believes that "genocide" is a term that does not clearly apply in a sovereign nation's defense against aggressors who promise its eventual demise.

Raz Segal, an associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies and an endowed professor in the study of modern genocide at Stockton University in New Jersey, reads the situation differently. In an analysis published Oct. 13 in the magazine Jewish Currents, just six days after the initial attacks, he wrote that Israel's intended response — along with comments from its leaders and citizens — met the definition of genocide. (Jewish Currents describes itself as being "committed to the rich tradition of thought, activism, and culture on the Jewish left and the left more broadly.")

Those comments proved critical in Segal's prospective directorship of the U Holocaust Center. After he was given a job offer June 5, the article was cited amid a wave of opposition from supporters of Israel, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. Two board members of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies resigned in protest of the appointment. A few days later the university paused the director search, and a week later interim President Jeff Ettinger told regents it would be resumed in the 2025-26 school year.

The center was established in 1997 in the University of Minnesota's College of Liberal Arts. It describes itself as promoting "academic research, education, and public awareness of the Holocaust, other genocides, and current forms of mass violence." It's important to note the breadth of that ambition. The genocide by Nazi Germany against Jews between 1941 and 1945 is a significant but not sole concern. The center cannot only look back.

Yet there's an argument that such an institution is not just an academic pursuit but a beacon in the broader community, and that its leader should unify, not polarize. Segal is undoubtedly a polarizing figure.

In a meeting with the Editorial Board last week, Ettinger said "it's not that we're guaranteeing any particular group a seat on the committee, but we need to be more mindful of the fact that the director spot does have that kind of connected point."

Bruno Chaouat — a U professor, former Holocaust Center director and one of the two board members who resigned in protest of Segal's appointment — told an editorial writer in an email that in an ideal future candidate "I would like to see a scholar who can speak to the academic and nonacademic community about genocides and who remains nuanced in his or her analysis. While I recognize the importance of polemic and robust disagreement for a lively academic community, I also think that the functions of a director of such a center demand moderation."

Still, the university is now vulnerable to accusations of selective listening. Segal told an editorial writer that petitions with thousands of signatures, including those of many Jewish people, went ignored. "The response has been overwhelming support of me and anger at the university. The anger stems from the crude violation of academic freedom, the crude political interference in a regular hiring process at a public university, and the crude violation of the procedures of the university itself," he said.

Meanwhile, members of the College of Liberal Arts Assembly have characterized the administration's involvement as an "unprecedented interference in the college's hiring process" and last week produced a 24-6 vote of no confidence in Ettinger and Provost Rachel Croson. (Ettinger's role as interim president ends July 1, when Dr. Rebecca Cunningham is to begin her tenure in the permanent role.)

There can be little argument that Segal has been treated poorly, but leadership roles have broad obligations and the university must get them right. The decision to pause the search buys time. The result should be a good-faith effort to work out the dispute over process and to navigate the legitimate but competing interests of academic freedom and community representation, at a volatile time when the community is itself divided. The conflict has not yet undermined the center's mission irredeemably, but it has cast a chill.