Leeds university chaplain accused of 'war crimes' for volunteering for IDF

Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch, an Israeli, left Yorkshire to serve with his reserve unit in Israel


2JHJ8D2 The Parkinson Building grade II listed in Greek Revival style by Thomas Lodge at Woodhouse, Leeds University

A Jewish University chaplain for several Yorkshire universities has been abused and accused of "participating in genocide" for travelling to serve in the IDF.

Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch shared videos of himself in Israel wearing an IDF uniform last week. Rabbi Deutsch, who serves as a chaplain the universities of Leeds, York, Hull, Huddersfield, Bradford, Sheffield and Leeds Beckett, was called up to serve.

In a leaked private video sent from Israel to students and seen by the JC, the rabbi said: “There is so much confusion going on and it’s clear that there is evil and there is good.

“What Israel is trying to do is to destroy the evil which is the most moral thing possible. “We are also trying to deal with the civilians in Gaza in the best way possible.”

The rabbi went on to say that Israel was dealing with the current conflict “with the utmost morality and good ethics”.

Ahead of his deployment to Israel, Deutsch said: “I’ve been called to go to miluim [army reserve duty] and I’m heading to Israel this evening. 

“It’s very hard to leave the family and everything going on here behind, but we strongly believe this is the right thing to do.

“I wish you all Hatzlacha rabba [good luck] with all the amazing work you are all doing here on campus by spreading the light of the Jewish nation.”

But after his video was posted on an anti-Israel social media account with more than one million followers, some called for the immediate removal of the rabbi from his role.

The Leeds branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said: “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.”

Posting on X/Twitter, Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, co-founder of Nejma Collective, a UK-based group of Muslim volunteers working with people in prison, said: “How can the University of Leeds uphold its responsibility for the wellbeing of students if a participant in Palestinian genocide is allowed back on campus?”

On the rabbi’s role covering the wider Yorkshire region, Manzoor-Khan added: “This is a huge segment of Yorkshire! Students and staff demand answers!”

The Network of Sisters in Academia, an international professional network for female Muslim academics, said: “This is shocking. A chaplain of several leading British Universities, Zecharia Deutsch, has joined the IDF war machine in its genocide of Gaza while publicly posting misinformation and propaganda about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians."

A message from the leadership of the University of Leeds’ Jewish Society (JSoc) to members stateed: “You may have seen that some stuff has gone around social media about Rabbi Zecharia being on reserve duty. 

“We want to be clear that the university knew he was asked to return to Israel temporarily and wished him well. 

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

Sophie Dunoff, Chief Executive Officer of the University Jewish Chaplaincy told the JC: “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 multifaith 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.”

The JC has approached the Universities of Leeds, York, Hull, Huddersfield, Bradford, Sheffield and Leeds Beckett for comment. 

Deutsch was also contacted for comment.

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