Der Füror

One bad Hitler analogy turned the Maricopa County YWCA into a war zone

"To change, we need to recognize our failings," he intoned. "Failure to denounce publicly and immediately the slanderous, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements and resolutions of the World YWCA; a scurrilous resolution that harbors both racism and bigotry, while the mission of the YWCA demands the eradication of racism.

". . . May we ask for Your assistance in doing what is right for the 'Y' -- following its principles of eliminating racism, not siding with bigots; of empowering women and families, not avoiding the challenge and applying principles selectively." He closed with a request for reconciliation.

He'd talked for nearly five minutes.

In some circles, ignoring comparisons to Hitler will always come back to bite you eventually.
Mark Poutenis
In some circles, ignoring comparisons to Hitler will always come back to bite you eventually.
Barbara Lewkowitz wanted her local board to condemn the report -- or even just discuss it.
courtesy of Barbara Lewkowitz
Barbara Lewkowitz wanted her local board to condemn the report -- or even just discuss it.

Not everyone was thrilled.

JoAnn Garcia, a public defender being honored at the luncheon, says that her friends and family members had no idea what the rabbi was talking about. "It was inappropriate for him to use that as his platform," she says. "There were other ways to address that issue."

But the Jewish leaders felt like they'd been used.

"They wanted to bring in a rabbi to show that everything would be okay," says Rabbi Arthur Lavinsky of the Beth-El Congregation. "But that really wasn't the case.

"Rabbi Kravitz really socked it to them, didn't he?" he says, chuckling.

Debra Roth, spokeswoman for the USA YWCA, says the national agency bears some responsibility for not addressing the World Resolution and Pagelkopf's report sooner. "If we had addressed it more comprehensively early on, it might have stopped it from spreading bigger," she says.

But Roth emphatically rejects the idea that the Maricopa County YWCA might have also acted differently.

"If they were guilty of anything, it was of being blasted with incredible, aggressive tactics," she says. She uses the word "bullying" more than once to describe the actions of Jewish leaders.

But even if the Jewish leadership in Maricopa County was, in this instance, more antagonistic than in other places, the YWCA managed to botch every opportunity to move on.

After Lewkowitz had left, and Paine quit, the YWCA had gone so far as to hire a consultant specifically to help it deal with the issue. But it picked the one Jewish woman who'd already written a letter to the editor of the Jewish News supporting the YWCA -- a woman who seemed intent on shoring up the Y's self-confidence rather than calling for reconciliation.

"The Jewish leaders were so aggressive, and building such a wedge . . . I didn't want the YWCA to think every Jewish person in Arizona was that pushy and that aggressive," explains the consultant, Lisa E. Benson. "My purpose was to say, 'Not every Jew hates you.' And, 'You will get through this.'"

Benson now says it's time for Phoenix's Jewish leaders to step aside.

Another example: After the Tribute luncheon, Connie Robinson contacted the same Jewish group she'd previously stood up, the Jewish Community Relations Committee. Again, the situation ended in an impasse: The JCRC's director, Michelle Steinberg, says the YWCA promised to follow up on a list of suggested actions. Although Steinberg phoned repeatedly and sent a follow-up letter, she didn't hear a word.

Unbeknownst to Steinberg, board members decided they'd had enough. Internal communications stress how much the board felt "under siege."

When a reporter for the Jewish News called the agency in May, asking what the YWCA planned to do to repair relationships, e-mails obtained by New Times make one thing clear: Repair was not on the agenda.

As the YWCA's lawyer, Ellis Carter, wrote in an e-mail to board members, "Personally, I don't think there is anything you can say or do that will satisfy these people."

For months, people like Lewkowitz and her counterpart in Tucson, Marcotte, struggled to make sense of the Maricopa County YWCA's actions. Was it really so incompetent that a report easily handled everywhere else in the country became a crisis in Phoenix?

Or was something more sinister at play?

Marcotte began to take a darker view.

"When an organization says, 'We're under attack, we're under siege, we're being treated poorly' -- when frankly the facts don't support that, and when this was such a simple issue to fix -- if you look at classic anti-Semitism, those are the kinds of words that are used," she says.

"And I'd say, it's hard to come to any other conclusion."

An e-mail exchange in May only gives weight to Marcotte's perspective.

During the same week the Jewish News called to revisit the issue, Connie Robinson received an e-mail from her brother-in-law, Roy Dawson. A copy of the e-mail was obtained by New Times.

The subject: "About the Jews."

Attached was a long essay from an anti-Semitic Web site, titled "Jews and the Black Holocaust."

"Read this," Dawson wrote. "It will give you some insight in to how/why they act as they do . . ."

The essay's argument isn't exactly cogent, but the gist is this: Jews invented the idea that blacks should be enslaved, then participated in the slave trade. "Ask Jewish critics to name just one prominent Colonial American Jew who did not own slaves," the essay demanded. Based on random comments from Jews as diverse as the late Israeli defense minister and Howard Stern, the essayist claims the Jews are still fomenting hatred against blacks today.

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