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Israel-Palestine war: Leeds students call on Jewish chaplain fighting for Israel to resign

Critics fear Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch's decision to volunteer in the Israeli army will encourage other Jewish students to join the fight
Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch sent pictures of himself posing with other fellow reservists in Israel to a Leeds University chaplaincy group chat on WhatsApp (Supplied)
Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch sent pictures of himself posing with other fellow reservists in Israel to a Leeds University chaplaincy group chat on WhatsApp (Supplied)

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

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. 

"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," said Deutsch in one video, in which he appears to be wearing an Israeli military uniform.

"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."

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Other 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), screenshots of which have been seen by Middle East Eye, 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.

The University of Leeds and Deutsch had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publication.

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." 

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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.

'The videos he is sharing are incredibly dangerous for campus relations. He should not be allowed back on campus'

- student at the University of Leeds

"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.

Deutsch and his wife Nava became Jewish chaplains at the University of Leeds in 2021. Both are members of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based Modern Orthodox movement, and before coming to England, received training from its Straus Amiel Institute.

Ohr Torah Stone has publicly supported Israel's "Swords of Iron" operation in Gaza and said it was "wiping out the Amalek" - a term used to describe a nation in the Bible who were seen as a staunch enemy of the Israelites. 

Earlier this month, the organisation's president was pictured visiting soldiers on the front line and writing messages on the side of an Israeli rocket. 

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