British university chaplain and family in hiding following death threats over stint as IDF reservist


(JTA) — A rabbi at several British universities who drew hundreds of death threats after flying to Israel to serve as a reserve soldier after Oct. 7 is now in hiding with his wife and two children on the recommendation of police.

Both the University of Leeds and British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis have condemned the threats against Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch, his wife Nava, and their two children, which began shortly after Oct. 7 and escalated recently with antisemitic phone calls and an attack on the school’s Hillel House.

“Tell that Jewish son of a bitch we are coming for him,” a message left for Nava Deutsch said, according to the Daily Mail, which listened to some of the messages.

“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,” a spokesperson for the university said in a statement. 

The statement added, “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.”

Like many former Israeli soldiers living abroad, Deutsch flew to Israel soon after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack to rejoin the Israel Defense Forces as a reservist. While he was away, a petition began to circulate demanding his removal from the position of university chaplain, saying his participation in a deadly war would create an unsafe environment at Leeds. The petition now has more than 11,000 signatures.

Opposition to Deutsch grew in November when videos he shared of himself with his unit were shared in an anti-Israel WhatsApp group.

Deutsch returned to England in January, amid a broad demobilization of Israeli reservists. Last week, students with the Palestine Solidarity Group gathered outside a student services building to protest his presence on campus

“We are disgusted and outraged by the recent news that Rabbi Zecharia Deutsch has been allowed to return to campus after serving in the IDF, an army that has been committing genocide in its ongoing assault of Gaza,” the group wrote on their Instagram account at the time. “Please show your support and make it clear to the university we will not stand with a genocidal chaplain on our campus.”

Hours before the protest, the words “Free Palestine” were found spray painted on the Hillel House at the university.

The family also continued to receive threats. According to the Daily Mail, another said, “Us Muslims are coming for you, you dirty Zionist m—–f—–.”

A third message said, “We are going to get you. How dare you come back to Leeds and expect the Muslims not to do ‘owt [anything], when all you lot have been doing is killing innocent children?”

The University of Leeds, which has more than 35,000 students, enrolls thousands of Muslim students, many from abroad, according to university data. 

Mirvis also denounced the threats against the Deutsch family and called on the university to take action.

“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,” Mirvis said. “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.”

The University Jewish Chaplaincy assigns rabbis and rabbinic couples to work with students at more than 100 schools across England. In addition to the University of Leeds, the Deutsches, who previously lived in Jerusalem and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, work at six other schools in the Leeds area.

“We are deeply shocked and appalled by the despicable torrent of horrific anti-Semitic hate and threats of violence being directed at Rabbi Deutsch and his family,” the chaplaincy group said in a statement. “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. To find ourselves in this situation in the U.K. in 2024 marks a dark day for British Jews.”

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