When hundreds of Jews and non-Jews gather at the Museum of Tolerance this Sunday (Jan. 30) to protest against suicide bombings , they will stand before a grisly reminder of this global scourge: the charred remains of Bus No. 19, which a Palestinian bomber blew up one year ago in Jerusalem, killing 11 and injuring more than 50.
Several prominent Jewish groups have agreed to underwrite the exhibition, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Consulate General of Israel and StandWithUs, an Israeli advocacy group.
What many of those on hand might not know is that Jerusalem Connection, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based Christian outfit, owns the bus and holds a variety of positions at odds with most of the Jewish groups participating in the event. The leader of Jerusalem Connection, Dr. James M. Hutchens, said he thinks any Israeli withdrawal from the territories violates God's will, that a religious war is taking shape between Muslims on one side and Jews and Christians on the other and that Palestinians are not a distinct people.
Hutchens said he hopes that viewing the twisted carcass of the ruined bus might inspire Jews and Christians to see the implacable foe they face in radical Islam, and the need for Jews to remain in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank. To help hasten that understanding, he said he has had passages of "Hebrew Scripture" placed in the destroyed vehicle's wheel wells.
"Sharon's plan for disengagement is not in accord with the Bible," Hutchens said. "That land was promised in the Bible to Abraham and his descendants, and that covenant should not be abrogated."Hutchins is also the author of a dissertation titled, "A Case for Messianic Judaism," which believes Jesus is the Messiah.
The debate over the wisdom of associating with groups like Jerusalem Connection reflects a larger issue animating the community. Those who believe Israel's very existence is at stake argue that Jews should build bridges with evangelical Christians, whose support of Israel matters more than theological differences. Liberals counter that right-wing Christians share little in common politically.
"Their goal is to have a Christian America and to have the Jewish state convert and be saved. That is the right-wing evangelical community," said Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills.
Bus No. 19 comes freighted with controversy, even without the involvement of Jerusalem Connection, formerly known as Christians for Israel. Some Arab and liberal Jewish groups have characterized the bus as exploitive, a hindrance to Arab-Jewish reconciliation and inflammatory. (Bus No. 19 is not associated with Bernie Massey's global anti-terror exhibit that also features a blown-out Israeli bus.)
Locally, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Peace Now and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) have turned down invitations to participate in Sunday's event. Protests greeted Bus No. 19 at stops in Cambridge, Mass., Berkeley and at Duke University.
"We have a major concern with anyone, Christian or Jew, who suggests that the Bible, rather than political, diplomatic or economic considerations, should determine the outcome of the Middle East conflict," PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said the fight against suicide bombers required making alliances with a variety of groups, even if theological or other differences exist.
"If all of humanity is in a boat and there's a hole in the middle and it's leaking and sinking, you want to get as many people as you can to put their finger in the hole and plug it up," Cooper said. "That doesn't mean you change who you are. That doesn't mean you change what you believe. It means you have a crisis."
Nazir Khaja disagrees. The chairman of Los Angeles-based Islamic Information Service, an Islamic advocacy group, said the Wiesenthal Center risked compromising itself by associating with Jerusalem Connection, a group that he said appears to view most Muslims as unfavorably. Indeed, Jerusalem Connection's leader said during an interview that so-called moderate Muslims "don't take the Quran seriously. That's because the Quran calls for the destruction of the infidel."
The Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has written to the Wiesenthal Center asking the human rights group to pull out as an event sponsor, CAIR Executive Director Hussam Ayloush said.
StandWithUs Executive Director Roz Rothstein said members of Jerusalem Connection were friends of the community. She said far from trying to manipulate Jews, the group stands beside them and Russians, Indonesians, Sri Lankans and all victims of suicide bombings.
Rothstein said StandWithUs and other sponsors have each contributed $1,400 for security and other expenses. The Anti-Defamation League, Sinai Temple, Hindu American Foundation and other participating organizations ponied up $180 apiece.
"For those Israelis who have suffered so much, who have lost loved ones in these suicide attacks, to know that we're standing in solidarity with them by being next to the bus is a show of love," Rothstein said.
ZAKA, an Israeli volunteer organization that recovers the remains of Jewish victims of bombings in accordance with Jewish law, displayed Bus No. 19 early last year at The Hague, Netherlands. It did so to protest the trial of Israel at the International Court of Justice over the security barrier now under construction.
Hutchens said several Jewish and non-Jewish groups declined ZAKA's offer to take the bus to the United States before Jerusalem Connection stepped in. The group paid $10,000 to ship it from Holland to the United States and first exhibited the vehicle in Washington, D.C., on May 6, the National Day of Prayer. Bus No. 19 later made stops in Boston, Baltimore, Orlando and other cities.