Pardon granted to man who flew planes to Israel


WASHINGTON (JTA) — A posthumous pardon was granted to a man who provided planes and weapons to Israel’s armed forces during its 1948 War of Independence.

Charles Winters, a Protestant from Miami who died in 1984 and was buried in Israel, served 18 months in prison for violating the Neutrality Act, which prevents U.S. citizens from providing assistance to parties in foreign conflict in which the United States has not taken sides.

Winters, a Boston native who exported produce, helped provide three World War II B-17s that had been used to export fruit and vegetables, piloting one of the planes himself. The three planes became the first three heavy bombers in the Israeli Air Force.

Two of Winters’ partners, Herman Greenspun and Al Schwimmer, were convicted of violating the Neutrality Act but never served prison time. They were pardoned in 1961 and 2000, respectively.

Winters’ cause was taken up by film director Steven Spielberg, the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County in Florida and a bipartisan Florida congressional delegation, among others.

Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.), who led that effort, said the "raw guts and bravery" of the actions of Winters, Greenspun and Schwimmer "proved essential to the state of Israel at a critical moment, when it was beseiged by enemies on all sides."

"The story of Mr. Winters is one we should all remember when we are called to stand up for just causes, regardless of the consequences," Klein said in a statement.

Gary Walk, the immediate past chair of the Palm Beach County federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council, called Winters’ actions "heroic and courageous."

"The pardon," he said, "clears the name of an honorable man whose noble actions helped establish a strong Jewish state."

Recommended from JTA