Al Schwimmer, model of Israel-US ties

We can all take pride in Al’s life, and resolve to fulfill his dream and guard his heritage.

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 them).
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 much.
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.