Much to the chagrin of the Israel’s Foreign Ministry, an Israeli group is planning to display at a Jewish expo here in December the skeletal remains of Egged bus No. 32, blown apart by a Palestinian suicide bomber in Jerusalem a year ago killing 19 and wounding more than 70.
A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Jonathan Peled, said Zaka, the Orthodox organization of volunteers who retrieve body parts after terrorist attacks, "approached us and asked us our opinion" about such a display at the biannual Jewish Expo Dec. 20-22 at the Javits Center.
"We said it is not a great idea … because the purpose is to encourage tourism," he said.
Another Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot that "the display of the shattered bus would ruin any chance of bringing tourists to Israel."
The Jewish Expo is billed as the largest Jewish event in the country and is scheduled to have 250 exhibits featuring Israeli products.
The bus display would have a special impact on New Yorkers, whose nerves are still raw from the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center that killed more than 2,800.
But Shaul Wassertheil, a spokesman here for Zaka, said the bus is "not designed to spill salt on open wounds but to show how we live in Israel."
"It’s a marketing tool," he added. "People should see what we live through."
Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University, said that "Zaka has ruffled a lot of feathers in Israel because of its public relations activities. They compete with Magen David Adom and its leaders are clearly using [the PR campaign] as a political platform which many find disturbing," advancing the agenda of the haredi community in Israel.
Wassertheil said the bus would be part of a larger Zaka exhibit that would include a five- to seven-minute video that would show people getting on a bus, the explosion, and Zaka’s work retrieving the body parts of victims so they can be buried properly.
Wassertheil said the No. 32 bus, which was blown up on June 18, 2002, at the Pat Intersection, was chosen for display because the bus’ shape is still intact, despite the roof being blown off.
"Other buses no longer look like a bus" after a bombing, he said.
But he said a final decision to use the No. 32 bus had not been made and that they might use instead the No. 2 bus blown up in Jerusalem Aug. 19 that killed 23 (including children returning from a bar mitzvah celebration) and injured more than 100.
"People remember that one because it was the last one," Wassertheil said. "But this one was a double bus" and it might be more difficult transporting it here.
Ronn Torossian, a spokesman in New York for the Ministry of Tourism, said his ministry plans to have its own display at the expo and stressed, "Our involvement is separate and has nothing to do with the bus. … We seek to promote Israel as a positive, beautiful country to visit. We canít ignore the fact that terrorism exists, much as it does in New York, Paris and throughout the world.
"Is a bombed bus the best way to promote tourism? We don’t think so. Is it a positive venue to promote tourism? We donít think so."
The decision to bring the bus to New York coincides with the launching of Project Go Israel, a major tourism effort by the Ministry of Tourism and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to bring 1 million Americans to Israel in the next 12 months.
As part of that effort, pledge cards were left at the seats of High Holy Day worshippers at synagogues nationwide last weekend that asked people to commit to visiting Israel in the next year.
Wassertheil said that although the bus is "not the best way to promote tourism, it is not going to stop tourism. We are just going to show what is going on here. Seeing a picture of the bus is not the same as seeing the bus, seeing what it was like and the tragedy happening to people when they go to shul, to school or to work everyday."