Rescinding Dr. Segal: Mt. Irony in the Age of Resurrected US McCarthyism

Youtube screengrab.

The resurrection of McCarthyism in the US has returned in full force since October 7th. Careers have been truncated, protests have been muffled and employment opportunities curtailed.

MSNBC cancelled the Mehdi Hasan Show in November. In June, Briahna Joy Gray was canned by The Hill, where she co-hosted the Rising web series. 30% of students who demonstrated against the Israeli genocide and famine as a weapon of war had their jobs rescinded. University presidents have responded to pro-Palestinian encampments on campuses in true anti-First Amendment fashion (and hence anti-American) by calling in the police to clear them. While the police have used heavy-handed tactics against pro-Palestinian activists, when the same protesters were attacked by a pro-Israeli mob, the police stood idly by.

While these are just some instances of McCarthyism related to Palestinian rights not seen since the 1950s Red Scare, this month has shown us layer upon layer of irony, yielding Mt. Irony.

The University of Minnesota rescinded its offer to Israeli historian and leading genocide scholar Dr. Raz Segal to become director of its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS). Dr. Segal had been prescient in accusing of Israel’s onslaught of Gaza as a “textbook case of genocide” during the first week of the conflict, when Israel had already killed 1,900 and displaced 400,000 Palestinians.

The cancelling of Dr. Segal’s directorship was fueled by two CHGS board members resigning in protest of his hiring and pressure from a local Jewish advocacy group. Interestingly, the advocacy group did not just have a problem with Segal’s genocide article. The group also voiced concern over Dr. Segal describing Israel as a “settler-colonial” state and his alleged dismissing of campus antisemitism. If the latter claim is true, it was likely dismissed by Dr. Segal as he surely understands that almost all the “antisemitism” on campus related to pro-Palestinian protests is not antisemitism at all. It is just discomfort with students decrying Israel’s genocide, constructed famine and apartheid.

Here’s where the layers of irony come in.

One layer is that an Israeli scholar was barred from a university position by those who are pro-Israeli, in an extreme, fundamentalist sense. To protect a state conducting mass murder and starvation, pro-Israeli extremists essentially discriminated against an Israeli for his views. They sacrificed one person’s career for the greater good of genocide and starvation.

The ironies mount.

Second layer: Dr. Segal had the foresight and, frankly, courage to call out Israel on October 13, 2023, for perpetrating “another chapter in the Nakba,” in which a genocide was unfolding. In his article for Jewish Currents, Dr. Segal noted his status as a scholar of genocide. For his experience and expertise, he was selected to become the director of Univ. of Minn.’s CHGS – to guide the center’s role in studying genocide and the Holocaust. For utilizing his knowledge in calling out the ongoing genocide in Gaza, he was prevented from leading an organization that focuses on genocide. The university would apparently prefer to hire someone who cherry picks which genocides to actually consider genocide. If I were to guess, these would be genocides that the US did not perpetrate (such as those committed against Native Americans or the Vietnamese) or act as an accomplice to (such as Bangladesh in 1971).

The last layer of Mt. Irony is the revival of full-fledged McCarthyism in the U of M’s trampling on the First Amendment. Because Dr. Segal exercised First Amendment rights within an American magazine, he was prevented from assuming CHGS directorship. Universities are supposed to be bastions of open discussion and debate, yet University of Minnesota and innumerable other US higher learning institutions have embraced the antithesis.

Mt. Irony is deeply interwoven with troubling contradictions in the American public sphere. As Americans have been constitutionally granted the right to free speech, it would make sense that they not be punished with police crackdowns, university and corporate firings and refusals to hire when they choose to exercise this fundamental right. If one speaks up against injustice, one’s career should not be curtailed. At least, so says the First Amendment.

The Clash’s “Know Your Rights” lyrics ring true, now more than ever.

You have the right to free speech

As long as you’re not

Dumb enough to try it

As a prolific author from the Boston area, Peter F. Crowley writes in various forms, including short fiction, op-eds, poetry and academic essays. In 2020, his poetry book Those Who Hold Up the Earth was published by Kelsay Books and received impressive reviews by Kirkus Review, the Bangladeshi New Age and two local Boston-area newspapers. His writing can be found in Middle East Monitor, Znet, 34th Parallel, Pif Magazine, Galway Review, Digging the Fat, Adelaide’s Short Story and Poetry Award anthologies (finalist in both) and The Opiate.

His forthcoming books, due out later in 2023, are That Night and Other Stories (CAAB Publishing) and Empire’s End (Alien Buddha Press)