Stephen Spielberg
Stephen SpielbergReuters

Jim Winters, a Florida neon designer and amateur photographer whose father Charles has been called “the Godfather of the Israel Air Force” for his crucial and heroic contribution to the IAF at its inception, says he is being harassed by producer Nancy Spielberg and by a Florida rabbi.

Spielberg – sister to famed director-producer Steven Spielberg – is getting set to release her film, “Above and Beyond,” about the volunteers from abroad (known as “Mahal”) who played a key role in establishing the IAF during the 1947-49 War of Independence. Jim Winters thinks his father is not mentioned in the film – but he does not know for sure, because he has been prevented from seeing it.

The organizers told Winters that they believe he poses a security threat, because of an acrimonious exchange between Winters and the organizers, and the fact that Winters has pictures of guns on his Facebook page.

Jim Winters told Arutz Sheva he thinks he is being hounded maliciously.

“I heard that the film's premier was coming up a few weeks ago so I planned on going, assuming that my father would definitely be part of the story,” he recounted. “I wrote Nancy asking for access or tickets seeing as it was sold out... no response... so I could not attend the Thursday event [at Palm Beach]. But three days later it was being shown in Miami, so I went to see it.”

“When I got to the theater,” he recounted, “a security guard called me out by name and told me I was not welcome at the showing as per Nancy Spielberg and Rabbi Arnold D. Samlan, who runs the Miami Jewish Film Festival. I was so embarrassed and confused!... Why?”

'Degrading banishment'

Winters told us that police gave him a trespass warning even though he never entered the property (“totally illegal,” he says) and that he then went home.

“On Monday I got an email from Nancy and the rabbi, both saying they had nothing to do with the embarrassing degrading banishment. So I planned on going to the next showing, at the University of Miami campus. The rabbi sent me an email stating that Nancy said I was not invited. So I opted to see a different movie and purchased tickets. Five days later, when I arrived at the theater, this rabbi had four cops there to try and arrest me. For what?"

According to Winters, Rabbi Samlan said he was not welcome at the event. Winters, who is very emotional about his father's heroism, asks: “Why? Why didn't he just email or call me? He set me up, trying to get me arrested like an anti-Semitic terrorist or something. So I left with a two-year trespass order. Now I have retained an attorney to investigate what is going on. Who is illegally having police harass me for no reason?”

“The only thing I can imagine is that Nancy does something in this movie that betrays my father and she does not want me to see it until after its national release in the United States.”

Adam Segal, spokesperson for the documentary Above and Beyond, told Arutz Sheva:

“Each film festival that has programmed the film acts independently in providing tickets to members and the general public, and providing security for their operations. With security concerns extremely high among the Jewish organizations across the United States, it comes as no surprise that actions that may be perceived as aggressive, belligerent or threatening could raise the concerns of organizations like Jewish film festivals. The film team has been in contact with Mr. Winters in the past and has expressed appreciation for the heroic actions of his father and has offered him free passes to attend any theatrical screening of his choosing. The film is currently playing in New York and opens this Friday in Los Angeles and therefore open to the public. With the goal of honoring his father, we again invite him to be our guest when the film opens in theaters in South Florida next week.”

In an email to Winters, Nancy Spielberg wrote:

“I am so very sorry that things got out of hand with the Palm Beach festival and the Miami festival.

“We NEVER intended to slight or insult you, and, of course, I never had any intention of disregarding or disrespecting your father's enormous contribution. Your father was a hero, all the more so since he was not Jewish, but put himself on the line for the Jewish people. In fact, I speak about your father in many Q & A sessions after the screenings!

“The film does not include your father's story for the simple reason that a film, if it is going to be watchable, can only tell a very very very small story, a very focused story.

“The last thing I think it is very important for you to understand about the problems with the Florida film festivals in the past few weeks, is that we had NO control over their decision not to admit you to the screenings of Above and Beyond. As I'm sure you know, producers of public events, large and small, especially events having to do with Israel and things Jewish, are VERY NERVOUS right now!!! Your repeated and increasing anger and seemingly threatening communication by email, phone facebook, coupled with your own profile that is full of guns, etc. gave the festivals, as far as they explained it to us, no choice but to prevent you from attending.”

Arutz Sheva has asked Rabbi Samlan for a response to Winter's accusations but we have not received one yet.

The Father and the Godfather of the IAF

Jim's father, Charles – who was not Jewish – was imprisoned for helping smuggle heavy bombers to Israel, but pardoned posthumously by President George W. Bush in 2008.

He was a businessman who bought decommissioned military cargo planes that for transporting fruits and vegetables. His friend, the late Al Schwimmer, who is known as “the Father of the Israeli Air Force,” enlisted Winters in his efforts to supply aircraft to Jewish fighters in Israel.

Schwimmer was convicted in 1950 of violating the US Neutrality Act for smuggling aircraft into Israel during the War of Independence but did not serve jail time. He was pardoned in 2000 by President Bill Clinton. Schwimmer was the first director of the Israel Aerospace Industry, which he ran for 24 years.

Schwimmer and Charles Winters managed to smuggle three B-17 bombers to Israel, flying them from Miami, to Puerto Rico, then over the Azores to Czechoslovakia. The three bombers were the only heavy bombers in the Israeli Air Force during the war, and were reportedly essential in turning the tide of war in Israel's favor.

Winters was subsequently prosecuted by the U.S. for violating the Neutrality Act of 1939. He was found guilty and spent 18 months in prison. Another man in the operation, Herman Greenspun, was convicted but received no prison time, and was pardoned in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy.

A significant portion of IDF forces during Israel's 1948 War of Independence, like Schwimmer and Winters, were volunteers hailing from English-speaking countries.

Charles Winters received no monetary compensation for the work he did for the IAF. He died in 1984.