Tatiana Hasson, a senior at the University of Maryland College Park, doesn’t feel safe. It is because of her opinions about her opinions of Israel.
She isn’t comfortable at her school “because some people [on campus] think you might be radically right-wing and not liberal enough.”
Not long ago, the Boston native learned about a national ad hoc group called Safe Hillel, and she’s been quietly spreading the word among her friends ever since.
She’s quiet because she’s uncomfortable speaking up.
“I didn’t want to cause a scandal about it,” she says. “I told people in my Israel group,” Shalom Zionists of Maryland.
Ever since the Jewish students of Swarthmore College declared their Hillel an “open Hillel” in December, some students have begun to worry about insurgents storming the gates of the venerable Jewish student centers. In response, some students created Safe Hillel. Its hashtag: #KeepHillelProIsrael.
The group’s online petition states, “Often bullied and intimidated by anti-Israel campaigns and propaganda, pro-Israel students need a place to call home – Hillel.” It has gathered 687 signatures. And about 650 people have liked its Facebook page.
“With such a strong anti-Israel sentiment on campus, it’s important to have a place to go where pro-Israel students aren’t attacked,” says UMd. sophomore Daniella Berger. She signed the petition and liked the Facebook page.
At issue are guidelines that Hillel International put in place in 2010 that bars groups that don’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state or ones that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Open Hillel proponents say those guidelines discourage discussions about Israel with people whom Israel supporters might disagree with. Safe Hillel backers say those guidelines are what’s keeping the student center as the last safe environment for Israel backers.
Supporters like David Roumani say they’re working to keep Hillel from buckling to Open Hillel.
“Hillel International is doing the right thing by providing a safe place for students to have conversations about Israel,” says Roumani, a UMd. junior, adding that Safe Hillel’s position “resonated” with him.
“You should be able to voice your opinion — but at Hillel only up to a point,” he says.
“Hillel International is never going to back down,” Berger says. “When people are speaking out against it, it’s important that Hillel International knows that people are supporting them.”
Daniel Mael, a junior at Brandeis University and co-founder of Safe Hillel, says that all they are saying is that groups should keep their negative feelings about Israel outside of the Hillel building.
“A student can construct his Apartheid Wall [comparing Israel to South Africa] and scream how he hates the Jewish state — but he can still eat Shabbat dinner at Hillel,” Mael says.
All this strikes Rabbi Ari Israel as unnecessary.
“It implies Hillels aren’t safe. It implies Hillels aren’t open,” says Israel, executive director of UMd. Hillel. “Hillels are the most pluralistic Jewish institutions in the country.”
At a time of increasing polarization, Jewish students need to “get back to what [the historic Rabbi] Hillel stood for,” Israel explains.
“Hillel had values, but he also understand there were differences in the world.
“We need to step away from the boundaries,” he adds, “and keep focused on what we’re creating — a love of Judaism.”