A Jewish chaplain for universities in the Yorkshire area and his family were subjected to death threats and harassment after a campaign was launched to oust him from his position over his IDF service during the Israel-Hamas War.
The Daily Mail reported on Friday that Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch and his wife Nava had gone into hiding in response to the campaign.
The University Jewish Chaplaincy said that they expected Zecharia and Nava, who share the chaplaincy position, that they expected them to return soon to provide services to local Jewish students. The organization is working with the police, the Community Security Trust and university authorities to ensure their safety.
“We are deeply shocked and appalled by the despicable torrent of horrific antisemitic hate and threats of violence being directed at Rabbi Deutsch and his family. To find ourselves in this situation in the UK in 2024 marks a dark day for British Jews,” said the UJC. “We are in constant communication with Rabbi Deutsch, and our primary concern is to ensure his and his family’s ongoing safety and the safety of Jewish students at Leeds University.”
Local politicians denounced the threats against the Deutsch family, as well as the graffiti vandalism against the Hillel House on Thursday that many tied to the campaign against them.
“The abuse and threats being directed at the Jewish Chaplain and his wife and at Jewish students at Leeds University is antisemitism,” Leeds Central Labour MP Hilary Benn said in a statement. “I’ve contacted the university to ask what they are doing to protect and support Jewish staff and students.”
Response to the antisemitic threats
West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin said that the death threats and vandalism were “deeply concerning” and that she was in touch with the university and West Yorkshire Police.
“The communities of West Yorkshire remain united against all forms of violence, antiSemitism, and racism in any manifestation,” said Brabin. “Hate has no place in West Yorkshire.”
Upon his return to the United Kingdom after reserve duty in Israel, Deutsch was accused by student and Pro-Palestinian groups of “war crimes” and “genocide.”
Much of the controversy and anger was roused at the University of Leeds, where the local chapter of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign held a rally calling for his dismissal on Friday.
Writer Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan raised awareness of Deutsch’s service in November with a social media post, arguing that students couldn’t feel safe seeking chaplaincy service from someone “in the reserve army of a state blatantly violating international human rights law and enjoying it.” She said that Deutsch had shared videos and photos documenting his service in a WhatsApp group for students.
“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 hundreds of years, no one could deny that Israel is dealing with this war with the utmost morality and good ethics,” Deutsch said in a video leaked from the group. “It’s so clear that there is evil and there is good, and what Israel is trying to do is to destroy the evil, which is the most moral thing possible — while also trying to deal with the civilians in Gaza in the best way possible.”
Christopher John-George and Khalid Ben Bird, hosts of the Perspective Point Podcast and alumni of the University of Leeds, picked up on Manzoor-Khan’s post and started a petition on November 14 calling for Deutsch’s dismissal. As of Sunday, over 10,500 people had signed the petition calling for the University administration to remove Deutsch.
The university does not employ Deutsch but is contracted by the University Jewish Chaplaincy.
The outrage by Muslim and Pro-Palestinian groups continued last week, with the Muslim Association of Britain echoing the months-old demands.
“Why have you allowed Zechariah Deutsch to return to the university as a chaplain after serving in the IDF?” The Muslim Association of Britain demanded the University of Leeds. “You have a duty of care towards your students to ensure their safety at all times. How can your students feel safe with a war criminal complicit in genocide roaming your campus?”
Previous antisemitic incidents at the university
On Thursday, the University of Leeds Hillel House was defaced with graffiti. “Free Palestine” was painted multiple times in red on the building.
The Union of Jewish Students and Leeds Jewish Society said in a statement that it was “shocking and outrageous that those who hate us would stoop to this level.”
A University of Leeds spokesperson said that it was working with West Yorkshire Police and the property owners in the investigation of the incident and was supporting UJS in restoring the building.
“We are deeply saddened that our Jewish community has been targeted by this criminal act,” said the university spokesperson. “The University takes incidents of this nature extremely seriously, and the safety and welfare of our students and staff is our number one priority. We recognize that students and staff across our community have been deeply affected by the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza and will continue to provide support across our campus.”