Photo Credit: Facebook
BU sophomore Raphael Fils, who started 'Safe Hillel'

There’s been some attention paid lately to a largely unsuccessful effort to portray the Hillel on campus model as a “closed” environment, one that paints Hillel as an inflexible enforcer of unreasonable allegiance to the Jewish State. This effort calls itself “Open Hillel.”

The reason the Open Hillel effort has garnered some notoriety recently is that two Jewish campus groups affiliated with Hillel International voted to reject the Hillel International guidelines, declaring themselves Open Hillels.


Those guidelines include a lot of positive, supportive language for all kinds of ways of expressing one’s Jewishness.They also state that Hillels

will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.

In other words, Hillel students are permitted to say and do whatever they want, they just can’t provide a Hillel platform to Israel haters.

Hillel International responded to the groups who declared themselves Open Hillels like the good uncle it is, lauding the students for expressing their views and for being passionate.

The bottom line message, however, is that if a Hillel-affiliated campus group violates the Israel guidelines by, for example, offering a platform within Hillel to a proponent of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sactions Movement, that group will lose its affiliation to Hillel, along with the right to use the Hillel name, and to avail itself of Hillel resources.

The second step has not yet happened, even on the two campuses, Swarthmore College and Vassar College, which declared themselves Open Hillels.

But along now comes a student-founded and run group calling itself “Safe Hillel,” which takes a different approach to the situation.


The founder of Safe Hillel, Raphael Fils, is a Boston University sophomore from California. Fils told The Jewish Press that he and several of his friends joined together to take a stand in support of Hillel as a “safe place” for pro-Israel students, after seeing that those who were agitating to take Hillel in the opposite direction began to receive media attention.

“Hillel should not have to change its mission in order to accommodate those who don’t agree with it,” Fils said. “Hillel is the one place students are supposed to feel entirely comfortable in their support of Israel. If that makes some people uncomfortable, there are plenty of other places to go just to hear attacks on Israel,” he continued.

The mission of Safe Hillel is for Hillel to be a safe place where Israel supporters are able to express that view openly, and where Jews of every Jewish denomination are able to practice their Judaism freely.

“Why do students feel the need to ruin Hillel?” Fils said many of his friends were asking.

“Those are the people who are trying to make a lot of noise, but the majority of Hillel students don’t feel it is right to appease the opponents of Israel who want to transform the Jewish campus organization into a battle zone.

“Open Hillel is not really ‘open,’ it’s only being used to accommodate people on the left, those who are harshly critical of Israel’s every move. It is the people on the so-called ‘right’ who are being marginalized,” Fils continued. He also said that he despises those terms anyway, and considers himself someone in the center.


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Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a contributor to the A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email:


  1. “Open Hillel is not really ‘open,’ it’s only being used to accommodate people on the left, those who are harshly critical of Israel’s every move. It is the people on the so-called ‘right’ who are being marginalized,”

    This about sums it up…if the open Hillel people had anything logical and rational to state, that would be something at least…but they don't.

  2. Safe Hillel has two goals: 1) To be a place where Israel cannot be criticized, to be a place where BDS cannot be supported, and to be a place where the right for Israel to exist as a Jewish state cannot be questioned. and 2) to be a place "where Jews of every Jewish denomination are able to practice their Judaism freely."

    These two goals are mutually exclusive. Fils can have one or the other, but he can't have both.

    Throughout the Middle Ages and into the early 1900s, most Jews thought it would be inappropriate for them to migrate en mass to form a state back to their ancient Homeland. They thought that God wanted them to wait patiently in the Diaspora for His signal that the end days were near before returning to Judea and Samaria to reform a Jewish State. As Mark Tessler explains in A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (p. 19 – 20)

    "…most Jews nonetheless did not believe it was appropriate to initiate steps toward the reconstruction of their national home in Palestine. On the contrary, such action would indicate a loss of faith and the absence of a willingness to wait for the Creator's plan to unfold in its own Divinely ordained fashion, and this, as a consequence, would rupture the covenant between God and the Jewish people and make illogical and illegitimate any proclamations of Jewish nationhood or any assertion of a continuing tie beween Daspora Jewry and the Land of Israel. "

    This attitude started to change in the early 1900's thanks largely to the efforts of Rabbi Abraham Kook. Today almost all religious rabbis support the Jewish State of Israel. Almost. But there are still a small number of ultra-Orthodox rabbis who cling to the belief that it is going against God's will to form a Jewish State before He gives His signal. One such group, The True Torah Jews Against Zionism spells out why they are against a Zionist state of Israel:

    "The relatively new concept of Zionism began only about one hundred years ago and since that time Torah-true Jewry has steadfastly opposed the Zionist ideology. This struggle is rooted in two convictions:

    1. Zionism, by advocating a political and military end to the Jewish exile, denies the very essence of our Diaspora existence. We are in exile by Divine Decree and may emerge from exile solely via Divine Redemption. All human efforts to alter a metaphysical reality are doomed to end in failure and bloodshed. History has clearly borne out this teaching.

    2. Zionism has not only denied our fundamental belief in Heavenly Redemption it has also created a pseudo-Judaism which views the essence of our identity to be a secular nationalism. Accordingly, Zionism and the Israeli state have consistently endeavored, via persuasion and coercion, to replace a Divine and Torah-centered understanding of our peoplehood with an armed materialism.

    True Torah Jews is dedicated to informing the world and in particular the American public and politicians that not all Jews support the ideology of the Zionist state called "Israel". In fact, a great number of Orthodox Jews view the ideology of that state as diametrically opposed to the teachings of traditional Judaism."

    And here is a video by Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro explaining why True Torah Jews object to service in the IDF. Note that he calls into question Israel's validity.

    These Jews are well outside the mainstream of Jewish thought as far as their views of Israel is concerned. But they are Jews nonetheless. Would they be welcome in Safe Hillel? If not, then Fils should give up the claim that Safe Hillel is a place "where Jews of every Jewish denomination are able to practice their Judaism freely."

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