Students call for Leeds University Jewish chaplain fighting for IDF to resign

Rabbi Deutsch has been accused of ‘war crimes’

Students are calling on a Jewish chaplain at the University of Leeds to resign, after he decided to volunteer in the Israeli army.

Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch, the Jewish chaplain for six universities, including the University of Leeds, has been accused of “participating in genocide” by students.

After travelling to Israel to serve in the IDF, several students have questioned his duty of care as a chaplain and have since called for his resignation, Middle East Eye reports.

In a series of leaked videos sent to students and seen by The Jewish Chronicle, Rabbi Deutsch, who is a chaplain for several Yorkshire universities, including Leeds, Leeds Beckett, York, Hull, Huddersfield and Sheffield, defended his decision to join the Israeli army’s war effort in Gaza.

Appearing to wear an Israeli military uniform, Deutsch defended his decision to go and join the Israeli army’s war effort in Gaza and said: “If you know the real story of what’s been going on here in Israel over the last thousands of years and over the last hundred years, no one could deny that Israel is dealing with this war with the utmost morality and good ethics,”.

Speaking of the “confusion going on”, Deutsch discussed Israel’s intentions amid the ongoing events in Gaza: “And that’s what I think a lot of the nations are hearing and can learn from this. There’s so much confusion going on, and it’s so clear that there is evil and there is good. And what Israel is trying to do is destroy the evil, which is the most moral thing possible. With also trying to deal with the civilians in Gaza in the best way possible.”

Footage shared to a chaplaincy WhatsApp group for Jewish students in Leeds also showed him giving sermons, dancing and celebrating with other Israeli soldiers, The Jewish Chronicle reports.

A message sent by Leeds University’s Jewish Society to its members stated: “You may have seen that some stuff has gone around social media about Rabbi Zecharia being on reserve duty.

A message sent by Leeds University’s Jewish Society to its members stated: “You may have seen that some stuff has gone around social media about Rabbi Zecharia being on reserve duty.

“We are working with CST, University Jewish Chaplaincy, and UJS on this, and will be in touch with LUU and University.”

Speaking to the Middle East Eye, Esther, a student in the chaplaincy group where Deutsch posted his videos, said his actions had made some students think twice about approaching the chaplaincy for help.

“It’s dangerous what he is doing, and I fear that his videos will encourage people to go to Israel to fight,”, Esther said.

“Every time he sends a video, many people in the group react with love hearts and Israeli flags. The rhetoric he is showing in these videos is dangerous and completely ignores the Palestinian side.”

Hafsa, a student at the University of Leeds, who has previously used the chaplaincy service, echoed Esther’s worries, explaining her biggest concern was that tensions on campus would worsen as a result of Deutsch’s videos.

“The videos he is sharing are incredibly dangerous for campus relations. He should not be allowed back on campus,” Hafsa said.

“Both he and his wife host a lot of community events and project themselves as guides for Jewish students, and if that is the view he shares, what if it pushes people who can’t physically go there to fight, to take out their anger on campus?

“During last week’s student walkout for Palestine, some counter-protesters threatened us and called us Nazis for demanding a ceasefire.”

In a statement, the Leeds branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign criticised the hypocrisy of Deutsch’s actions: “Being a member of staff responsible for student wellbeing whilst being part of the IDF is like preaching a vegan lifestyle whilst working at a butchers.

“Does the university feel it’s Muslim, Arab and all vulnerable students in need of mental health support will still see the chaplaincy as a safe space?

“We demand his immediate removal and assurance that anyone associated with the IDF will not be allowed to teach and work on campus.”

Sophie DunoffChief Executive Officer of the University Jewish Chaplaincy told The Jewish Chronicle: “Like many other Israeli citizens living abroad, Rabbi Deutsch was called up to the IDF as part of the mobilisation following Hamas’ brutal terrorist attacks on 7th October. As his employers, we willingly granted Rabbi Deutsch personal leave and he returned to Israel with our blessing.

“Since in Israel, Rabbi Deutsch has been keeping in touch with the students in his care, updating them and sending messages of goodwill via WhatsApp. None of these messages were inappropriate in any way. Some have since been spread beyond the closed WhatsApp and this has resulted in an outpouring of hate, antisemitism and lies.

“This is a disgrace and totally unacceptable. The Jewish students in Leeds love Rabbi Deutsch and his family, and his relationship with them, with his multi-faith colleagues, and with the universities he serves is exemplary. We are liaising closely with the university authorities to monitor the situation. Our primary concern is for the safety and wellbeing of the Jewish students, Rabbi Deutsch, and his family. We pray for his safe return.”

A University of Leeds spokesperson said: “Jewish Chaplains are employed and assigned by independent charity the University Jewish Chaplaincy (UJC) to provide services to students at universities across the UK, including the Yorkshire region.

“We understand that one of the chaplains, who is an Israeli citizen, has been called up as a reservist and has therefore taken a formal leave of absence from his role.

“Leeds University chaplaincy services will continue to provide support to students of all faiths and none alongside our student support and welfare teams across the University and LUU.

“The university has been made aware of comments which we understand were made in a personal capacity, and should not be interpreted as the position of the institution. 

“Although the chaplain is formally absent from his role at the university, we recognise the strength of feeling and the different points expressed by a number of staff and students in our community, which we will discuss with chaplaincy colleagues and the UJC.

“The university will continue to provide support for all in our community who are affected by the conflict in Israel and Gaza and our thoughts continue to be with all of those killed, injured, held hostage, displaced, or otherwise affected.”

The University of York, University of Sheffield, University of Hull, University of Huddersfield and Leeds Beckett University have been contacted for comment.