The Chief Rabbi has described the campaign of hate waged against the Jewish chaplain at Leeds university – who went into hiding last week – as a threat “to all of our society".
Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch and his family moved to a secret location on the advice of the police last week after they received hundreds of vile messages including threats of murder and rape.
Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis urged the University of Leeds “to be unequivocal in the face of such brazen intimidation and hateful extremism” in his response to the news.
The Daily Mail reported that one message said: “We're coming to his house, we're going to kill him, and you as well you f****** racist bitch.”
Another caller said: “Us Muslims are coming for you, you dirty Zionist m***********.”
Another said: “We are going to get you. How dare you come back to Leeds and expect the Muslims not to do 'owt, when all you lot have been doing is killing innocent children.”
The Chief Rabbi said: “The shameful antisemitic abuse and violent threats directed at the Jewish Chaplaincy couple in Leeds, their young children and the Jewish students, are emblematic of the extremism which stains our society.
“These attacks are motivated by a hatred which might appear to be targeted at Jews, but which are ultimately a threat to all of our society. I call on the University of Leeds to be unequivocal in the face of such brazen intimidation and hateful extremism.”
Last week, the police and the CST opened an investigation into antisemitic graffiti that was sprayed across the Hillel House on Leeds campus.
Just hours after the attack on the Jewish student building, anti-Israel students gathered outside the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff building on Friday to protest against the rabbi’s presence on campus.
Rabbi Deutsch, who is an Israeli citizen, left Yorkshire to serve with his IDF reserve unit in November. Students staged a protest against his return to campus.
On Friday, Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group posted about the protest on their Instagram account and told their followers to “make it clear to the university we will not stand with a genocidal chaplain on our campus.”
At the protest, students held up a sign which said, “Thank you, Houthis”. Over the weekend, further Leeds protests included the chant: “If you hate Joe Biden, clap your hands”.
The Leeds University student paper reported that one protester insisted their protest was not hateful: “We don’t say anything hateful towards him. We’re not saying go and do this to him or do that, we don’t care. We just demand that the university sack him.”
A spokesperson for the University of Leeds said:
"The University of Leeds is deeply shocked and saddened by the events of Friday 9 February during which Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch received threats to his safety and that of his family and Hillel House was attacked. We understand and share the sentiment that has been expressed within and beyond our community, that antisemitism is a hatred that has no place on campus.
“We totally condemn the antisemitic abuse and threats directed towards the chaplain and his family – such attacks on any individual are unacceptable and will not be tolerated from members of the public or our University community.
“The University is supporting West Yorkshire Police in their investigations and will continue to work with his employer, the University Jewish Chaplaincy, to ensure Rabbi Deutsch can provide the support that is so valued by Jewish students at Leeds and the other universities he serves in the Yorkshire region.
“We are appalled that our Jewish student community was also targeted by a criminal act at Hillel House and share the concerns expressed for their safety and wellbeing. The University is actively supporting West Yorkshire Police and the Union of Jewish Students as the property owners as they investigate this incident as a hate crime.
“The University has detailed measures in place to safeguard our students and is further stepping up activity relating to both security and wellbeing. Our campus Security team and West Yorkshire Police are increasing foot and vehicle patrols of the area, and we continue to strengthen our partnership with police and the Community Security Trust (CST), to ensure our community feels safe.
“The Interim Vice-Chancellor and President is seeking meetings with universities in the region as well as our key partners across the city and local politicians, to identify what more we can do together to address issues being experienced by communities in the city and wider region.
“If any student experiences or witnesses harassment or abuse on- or off-campus, we urge them to report incidents via our Report and Support portal for prompt investigation and action. Students are also encouraged to use our SafeZone app which is linked directly to the University’s Security team who are on call to respond 24 hours a day. The Security team can also be contacted in an emergency on 0113 343 5494. We also promote the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) welfare hotline – 020 7424 3288 – should students prefer to report an incident to external community-led organisations.
“The University is committed, and indeed has a legal duty, to support free speech within the law. Whilst there have been many peaceful expressions of solidarity, we regularly remind everyone in our community of the legal limits of free speech – the University does not support any views or actions which seek to exclude or make any community feel unwelcome on campus.
“More broadly, we are working extremely hard to support and maintain our collective student and staff community. This has included regular meetings with student societies, faith groups and relevant regional and national representatives, to listen, discuss and respond as we identify what more we can do to respond to student concerns.
“Our University counselling and wellbeing services and Leeds University Union continue to offer students help, advice, and a safe space to talk about any concerns and issues. Any students experiencing anxiety or wellbeing issues that adversely impacts their studies are encouraged to contact their School to discuss support or mitigating circumstances to support them.
“In response to these specific and abhorrent instances of antisemitism, the University of Leeds is determined to protect members of our Jewish community and all those who play such a valuable role in supporting them.
“Further information about antisemitism is available on the CST website.”