Nov. 15, 2023
Students in the north of England have accused a Jewish chaplain of “participating in genocide” after he took a leave of absence to join the Israeli army’s fight in Gaza, reports Middle East Eye on Tuesday.
Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch, who is an Israeli citizen, has a pastoral role at several UK universities, including the University of Leeds and the University of Sheffield. He sent a series of videos to his students defending his decision to go and join the Israeli army’s war effort in Gaza. Some of the videos sent by Deutsch to a chaplaincy WhatsApp group for Jewish students in Leeds showed him giving sermons, dancing and celebrating with other Israeli soldiers.
Messages from the University of Leeds’ Jewish Society (JSoc) say that university officials knew that Deutsch was planning to go to Israel. The JSoc message said: “We want to be clear that the university knew he was asked to return to Israel temporarily and wished him well.”
It remains unclear whether the university knew Deutsch went to Israel to join the Israeli army reserves.
Esther, a Jewish student in the chaplaincy group where Deutsch shared his videos and did not want her surname to be published, said the situation 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 told MEE.
“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, who did not want to provide a full name, also studies at the University of Leeds. She has previously used the chaplaincy service and met regularly with the university’s Muslim and Christian chaplains.
She echoed Esther’s concerns and said her biggest fear was that tensions on campus would worsen because of Deutsch’s videos.
“The videos he is sharing are incredibly dangerous for campus relations. He should not be allowed back on campus,” said Hafsa.
“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.”
Hanzalah, a student at Sheffield University who helps run the Palestine Society, said the episode had made him lose all trust in the chaplaincy.
“The idea that someone from our university chaplaincy, an institution focused on pastoral care and interfaith relations at our university, was going to contribute to Israel’s actions in Gaza felt like a massive blow to all university students,” said Hanzalah.