Al Schwimmer 58.
(photo credit: IAI)
Al Schwimmer, a decorated World War II flyer in the US Air Force, died in Tel
Aviv this week at 94, and the Jewish world mourns the American whom David
Ben-Gurion once cited as the most important reason for Israel’s success in its
1948-49 War of Independence. But all Americans should take pride that one of
their sons, after flying dangerous missions in WWII, volunteered in 1947 to join
the fight to create the Jewish state.
Recruited by the Hagana, risking
his US citizenship, knowingly violating US laws which then prohibited arms sales
to the Middle East (which practically impacted only sales to Jews), Schwimmer
led the effort to purchase surplus US aircraft and ordnance, re-outfit the
equipment, recruit crews, and smuggle them all to Europe. From Europe, they
collected Czech, German and other planes and weapons, flying them to the newly
declared State of Israel (while evading British and Arab efforts to block
Together, they established and equipped the nascent Israel Air
Force, whose efforts have played such a crucial role in the country’s victories
against five Arab armies.
The story is well known – that he returned to
the US voluntarily to face charges of violating the Trading with the Enemy Act.
He was convicted, then pardoned more than 50 years later by president Bill
Clinton because he’d refused to apply for a pardon, believing he had nothing for
which to apologize.
Ben-Gurion later induced him to return to Israel,
after independence, to establish (and lead for more than 40 years) the company
that became Israel Aircraft Industries – a famed aerospace leader and today
Israel’s largest employer.
THE SAGA of Schwimmer’s accomplishments, or
most of it, is well known. But what bears special mention is that his devotion
and leadership stands as an exemplar of the glorious friendship and alliance
established between Israel and the United States, which have grown and persist
today to stand as the vanguard of freedom and democracy in the world against
those forces that would destroy them both. Al Schwimmer died loving both America
– his birth country, which he bravely served and refused to forsake – and
Israel, his adopted country, which he loved and for which he did so
Beyond that, he could not have done all he did without help;
Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, provided much of the wealth and political
support that permitted Israel to defend itself, and other Americans – men and
women, Jewish and non- Jewish – joined his fight in 1947 and thereafter, risking
(and sometimes losing) their lives in that noble struggle.
We can all
take pride in Al’s life, and resolve to fulfill his dream and guard his
heritage. Throughout the years, he was supported by his wife, Rina, and his
family, who provided much of the inspiration for his life’s work.The
writer is chairman of the America-Israel Friendship League and chairman emeritus
of the American Jewish Historical Society, and was a friend of Al Schwimmer for
more than 40 years.