In the fight for a Jewish state 67 years ago, Charles Winters took part in a clandestine mission to equip Israeli freedom fighters. Winters helped supply the Israelis with military planes, including three B-17 bombers dubbed “the Hammers” that strafed Egypt during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. While the Boston-born son of Canadian-Dutch and Irish Protestants cemented a hero’s legacy in Israel, Winters’ actions earned him a two-year stint in the federal slammer back home for violating the 1939 Neutrality Act and an embargo on shipping weapons to Israel.
But in 2008, President George W. Bush pardoned Winters — who died in 1984 — thanks to a clemency campaign by Congress and prominent Jews that included iconic filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
So given all of that history, when Miami-based neon-sign maker and photographer Jim Winters — Charles’ son — heard that a documentary by Spielberg’s sister Nancy Spielberg-Katz about the establishment of the Israeli Air Force was premiering at O Cinema Miami Shores, he made plans to attend the January 17 screening. Winters figured his dad’s role would be included in the film, called Above and Beyond, which screened during the 2015 Miami Jewish Film Festival.
Instead of being welcomed as the scion of an Israeli war hero, Winters was treated like an American Taliban, he tells New Times.
“As I’m walking up to the entrance, a Miami Shores cop sees me and yells out my name, making a huge scene,” Winters says. “I’m a tall, red-headed guy with pale skin and blue eyes, so the attendees probably thought I was some neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic scum looking to start trouble.”
The officer, who had a photo of him, instructed Winters to leave the premises. A few days later, Winters found out why. “Nancy left my dad out of the movie,” he says. “She figured I was going to bitch and complain, so she had me banned from the theater.”
On January 20, Winters emailed Spielberg-Katz to ease her concerns. “Is there anything you can do to help me view the movie here in South Florida?” Winters wrote. “Regardless if he is mentioned or not, it would still be a very emotional experience hearing the pilots talk.”
Spielberg immediately replied, telling Winters that she could not arrange tickets for a January 25 festival screening at the University of Miami’s Bill Cosford Cinema but that she could get him into a screening when the movie opened in other theaters February 13.
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“Unfortunately, we will not be able to have you at the other screening of this film at our festival,” Rabbi Arnold D. Samlan, executive director of the Center for Advancement of Jewish Education, which organizes the festival, wrote in a separate January 20 email.
A dejected Winters settled for buying a ticket to see another Jewish film at the Cosford Cinema. Again, he was escorted off the premises by cops waiting for him, Winters alleges. He was also given a trespass warning that prevents him from visiting his business client, the Lowe Art Museum, which is on the UM campus.
Spielberg-Katz says festival organizers were the ones who made the decision to ban Winters. (Samlan didn’t respond to New Times’ request for comment.) She also claims he was the one causing a scene.
“With security concerns extremely high among Jewish organizations across the U.S.,” she says, “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.”