September 21, 2001

Arab, Israelis Form Sept. 11 Coalition

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About 25 Cornell community members gathered on Ho Plaza yesterday evening for a candlelight vigil organized by the newly-formed September Eleventh Israeli, Arab, Middle Eastern Students Remembrance Coalition.

Nassim Majidi ’03, the president of the Iranian Students Association, and Gershon Lewental ’03, co-founded the September Eleventh Coalition in response to the last week’s terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C.

Members say they arranged their first vigil with the hopes of encouraging tolerance among people.

“It is time to look beyond the differences between the groups in this world,” said Prof. David Powers, Near Eastern studies, the first speaker at the vigil.

Cornell students, faculty and Ithaca residents delivered messages of peace, hope and tolerance — after introducing themselves and their reasons for attending the vigil — as they joined hands in a circle.

Heidi Mauer ’04 explained she attended the vigil because of the unity she hoped it would bring. “It’s a step in the right direction. … It’s a good place to begin,” she said. “W e need to see each other as people.”

Both Majidi and Lewental reported the coalition received numerous messages of opposition to holding the vigil, some of them stemming from within the Israeli and Arab communities.

“We had to change the date,” Majidi said. “We got some threats.”

Lewental said that angry emails were sent between various organizations. “People had a feeling that this [the vigil] would turn political,” he explained. “Politics aren’t important, humanity is important.”

Majidi, who is Iranian and was raised in France, expressed her concern at some racists comments she and other students heard. “Being an Arab in France is not acceptable … here I’ve received racist remarks. No place feels like home.”

Lewental explained he was grateful for his opportunity to meet students of other nationalities at Cornell, which helped him move beyond the idea of foreign countries as “nameless entities.”

According to Lewental, if students get to know others from different backgrounds at Cornell, they are more likely to feel sympathetic towards them because they “will have pictures in their heads of people they knew, good people … you are less quick to shoot a gun if you know people.”

Many students at the vigil spoke of “breaking the circle of violence.” According Lewental, “What everyone said is a message that everyone needs to hear.”

Archived article by Kate Cooper