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Monday, June 13, 2011

When the law should be ignored?

Al Schwimmer, the American-born founder of Israel Aircraft Industries, passed away over the weekend. He was 94. Schwimmer is considered a hero in Israel, but he was considered a criminal in the United States until he was pardoned by Bill Clinton upon leaving office in January 2001. JPost explains.
There are times in history when to act morally one must break the law. Al Schwimmer, who passed away Saturday at the age of 94, understood this.

In the years leading up to the War of Independence he quickly realized that doing what was right and doing what was lawful were not the same. He disregarded an arms embargo imposed on what was then Palestine and helped prepare the evolving Jewish state to defend itself by gaining aerial dominance.

Thanks to Schwimmer's American-based arms network – with branches in Hawaii, Panama, Czechoslovakia and Mexico – Israel successfully rebuffed the onslaught of Palestinian militias as well as an offensive launched by the combined armies of neighboring Arab nations during the 1948-49 war. Under his direction the network borrowed and sometimes stole dozens of fighter aircraft, recruited scores of battletrained American and British pilots and mechanics and shipped tons of ammunition that proved critical to the war effort.

Yet Schwimmer’s efforts were seen by the US as criminal. Declassified FBI documents quoted by The Forward in 2001 indicate that Schwimmer was suspected of illegally transporting weapons, some of which were allegedly stolen from US Navy ordnance dumps. For some time Schwimmer managed to stay one step ahead of federal investigators and export authorities. But in February 1950 the law caught up with him. A Federal District Court in Los Angeles convicted Schwimmer of conspiracy to violate the US Neutrality Act and export control laws.

Federal judge Thomas Madden personally supported getting planes out of the US “to do the job that some had said they should have been doing.” Nevertheless, he was compelled by law to fine Schwimmer $10,000 and strip him of his civil rights. It was not until 2001 that Schwimmer, who never agreed to apologize, would be pardoned by US president Bill Clinton for his “crimes.”
But Schwimmer didn't stop with breaking US law and founding IAI.
He engineered a major coup for Israel when France refused to sell its Mirage fighter jets to Israel in the 1960s. Al went to Switzerland and was able to convince a Swiss engineer to part with the plans for the Mirage in return for an unknown amount of cash.. Israel manufactured its own version of the Mirage, which was essential for victory over the Arab air might in the 1967 Six Day War. Schwimmer was persona non grata in Switzerland for many years thereafter.
I am sure that I am going to get comments from readers who will be upset that Schwimmer broke the law. But sometimes - in Sheakespeare's words - the law is an ass. When a law is unjust, sometimes it must be broken in order to survive. Think about the civil rights activists in the US in the 1960's. They were breaking an unjust law too, and they were willing to pay a price. So was Schwimmer.

Yehi zichro baruch (may his memory be blessed).



At 12:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pollard is not Schwimmer. Yes Schwimmer went around American neutrality and export laws at a time when the US had very little connection with the Jewish state. Pollard violated national security laws at a more delicate time and threw out a very serious oath he made of his own free will. Pollard also personally benefitted with cash gifts. He also very unwillingly paid a very high price because Israel for whatever reason panicked and left him with his hands in his pockets outside the Israeli embassy (only a handful of blocks from his "safe house" at the Van Ness apartments off Connecticut Ave).

At 1:03 AM, Blogger Juniper in the Desert said...

Yes, he was a hero. I read about him in Seymour Hirsch's "The Samson Option".
When I read that book I thought Hirsch was pro-Israel, as I loved it. Only recently have I read he is a pain in the "a" lefty.


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