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Sheffield students protest return of university chaplain who fought with Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza

Anti-apartheid activists say Zecharia Deutsch should not be welcome back on campus after taking part in the assault on Gaza.

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Around 100 activists gathered on the university concourse yesterday to protest the return of Zecharia Deutsch.

Now Then.

Students at the University of Sheffield have protested against the return of a university chaplain who recently fought for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) as part of its ongoing brutal assault on Gaza.

Around a hundred anti-apartheid activists gathered on the concourse outside the Students’ Union yesterday to express their grave concern about the continued indirect employment by UoS of Rabbi Zechariah Deutsch.

After the Hamas attack of 8 October, Deutsch travelled to Israel (where he holds citizenship) to serve as a reservist. He has since posted videos on social media that show him laughing and joking with fellow soldiers taking part in a conflict which has so far claimed nearly 30,000 Palestinian lives.

Deutsch is not directly employed by UoS – he works for an organisation called University Jewish Chaplaincy (UJC) that provides Jewish chaplaincy services to students at universities across the UK. Deutsch works as an Associate Chaplain at UoS, as well as other universities across Yorkshire including Leeds University.

The rally, which lasted around an hour, was addressed by Palestinian students from both Sheffield universities as well as Green councillor Alexi Dimond and Jewish anti-apartheid campaigners.

Organisers of the protest believed that Deutsch was due to visit the University of Sheffield yesterday, but the university told Now Then that this did not take place.

According to Middle East Eye, Deutsch sent a series of videos via WhatsApp to students who had used his services, justifying his decision to take up arms with the IDF.

"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," he said in one of these videos.

The “utmost morality” of Israel’s actions in Gaza has been widely contradicted by human rights organisations and war crimes investigators – last month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that it was “plausible” that the relentless assault on Gaza could constitute a genocide under international law.

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The rally was addressed by Palestinian students as well as Jewish anti-apartheid campaigners.

Now Then.

According to Al Jazeera, 28,730 Palestinians including 12,252 children have been massacred so far during the war which now has the highest daily death toll of any conflict in the 21st century, further undermining Israeli claims that their military is doing all they can to protect civilians.

In another video sent to students in Leeds, Deutsch claimed that “what Israel is trying to do is destroy the evil,” adding that the country was “trying to deal with the civilians in Gaza in the best way possible."

Now Then asked the University of Sheffield how many hours Deutsch works in Sheffield, and how his position in a multi-faith chaplaincy service was tenable after taking part in a military campaign that may constitute a war crime, but they declined to answer these specific questions.

The university told us that only Jewish students engage with the specific chaplaincy services offered by the UJC, and that the university also has ties many other chaplains of different faiths. They also said they are aware that the war in Gaza is affecting many of their students directly and indirectly, and that those students can access practical, welfare and wellbeing support.

by Sam Gregory (he/him)
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