Der Füror

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

When Barbara Lewkowitz first saw the report, she was too stunned to hit "print." And when she went back online, hoping to read it again, the link was gone, leaving her to wonder if the whole thing was a figment of her imagination.

It wasn't.

After a colleague faxed over a copy, Lewkowitz read it again, slowly. Only then was she certain that she hadn't read it wrong, that it really was as bad as she'd first thought.

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.
Gya Watson was stunned that the report generated no outrage, even when Lewkowitz resigned over it.
Peter Scanlon
Gya Watson was stunned that the report generated no outrage, even when Lewkowitz resigned over it.
Herb Paine wanted the YWCA to address the report --
and its finances.
Peter Scanlon
Herb Paine wanted the YWCA to address the report -- and its finances.
Tucson YWCA director Janet Marcotte tried to intervene.
courtesy of Janet Marcotte
Tucson YWCA director Janet Marcotte tried to intervene.
Susan Edwards boycotted the YWCA's biggest fund raiser of the year.
Mark Poutenis
Susan Edwards boycotted the YWCA's biggest fund raiser of the year.

The report compared Israelis to Hitler.

In part, it read, "Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews and now a group of Israelis, not all Israelis, is trying to choke off and rid the land of Palestinians."

Compare anyone to Hitler, and you'd probably face some criticism. (See: Moveon.org and that whole Bush-as-Hitler flap.) But to compare Israelis, after Hitler murdered six million Jews, is practically begging for controversy.

And the report wasn't just circulating through any old company. Lewkowitz was executive director of the YWCA of Maricopa County, a nonprofit agency that runs a shelter for homeless women and feeds the elderly. Like the better-known YMCA, the "C" technically stands for Christian, but the YWCA is really nonsectarian.

In fact, the group's stated mission is "eliminating racism and empowering women."

Lewkowitz is a devout Jew. A woman named Doris Pagelkopf, who is a vice president of the World YWCA (she's not Jewish), had written the incendiary words, and then apparently asked for them to be e-mailed to YWCAs across the United States. The Hitler analogy had gone out in the YWCA USA's e-newsletter, forwarded a second time in a series of e-mails, and even posted on at least one YWCA regional Web site in Chicago.

To Lewkowitz, the name-calling wasn't just hurtful, it was racist, and in direct conflict with the YWCA's goals.

It wasn't the first time the World YWCA had taken shots at Israel. But it was the first time Lewkowitz refused to accept it. Her struggle to force the Maricopa County YWCA's board of directors to deal with the report would eventually make headlines from Phoenix to Jerusalem. There are more than 300 local YWCA chapters across the country, and certainly some reacted to the report, but only in Maricopa County did the debate touch off a yearlong battle that nearly caused the agency to implode -- and threatens it to this day.

Locksmiths were summoned. Injunctions were filed. A police officer was hired to escort "insubordinate" employees off-site. The agency's public relations consultant resigned, as did nearly half its board of directors. Some staff members were fired; others quit. A rabbi denounced the board of directors from the podium at its premier fund raiser.

And, when Jewish leaders continued to agitate, a relative of the board president would helpfully suggest that she call Louis Farrakhan to "take care of them."

That's right: Louis Farrakhan. The guy who called Hitler "a great man" and compared Jews to leeches.

The agency's finances had been given a troubling bill of health even before things really got bad. Supporters worry that all the controversy is only making things worse.

Lewkowitz didn't bargain on any of that when the report arrived in her inbox last summer. To her, the whole thing seemed simple enough: The YWCA board could denounce the report, and everything would be okay.

"When you have a small problem and you take the time to think about it and take care of it, you can find a solution," Lewkowitz says.

But that didn't happen here. "Instead," she admits, "it became a big problem."


The organization that began as the Young Women's Christian Association is today neither particularly young nor Christian. Women of all faiths -- or even no faith -- have been welcome for decades.

Founded in London in 1855 by a group of Protestant women, it now includes associations in 122 countries.

In the U.S., at least, the YWCA has little affiliation with Christianity or its major tenets, beyond a desire to help the poor. Most YWCAs in this country do work similar to that of the Maricopa County branch: They feed the hungry, shelter domestic-violence victims, and run fitness centers.

But despite the more practical focus of its local affiliates, the YWCA's national office is a left-leaning crusader against racism and for women, almost like NOW and the Rainbow Coalition rolled into one. It's aggressively pro-choice and anti-Bush.

The World YWCA, while open to "interfaith dialogue," has stayed closer to its Christian roots. The global association advocates for women's economic rights and education. It, too, has taken a stand for reproductive rights, but it also offers a 12-month Bible reading plan and sponsors an annual week of prayer.

Barbara Lewkowitz came to the agency in 1999, as executive director of the YWCA of Maricopa County. Before that, she'd been director of planned giving at Planned Parenthood of Central Arizona, and it's easy to picture her on the job, convincing elderly benefactors that their descendants don't want an inheritance so much as pro-choice advocacy. Her voice is so sweet and her manner so kind, you almost don't notice the steely persistence beneath the surface.

"People are crazy if they think you can be an executive director from 9 to 5," she says. "You're there a lot. I worked my butt off."

With her background in fund-raising, Lewkowitz focused on shoring up the agency's finances, which had only recently gained a secure footing. By the time she left, she says, the agency increased its United Way contributions 10 percent. Grants were up 400 percent.

And in her five and a half years on the job, she recalls, not one of the agency's core staffers left. "We worked really well together," she says, smiling, and then she stops.

Today, four of those seven core staffers, including Lewkowitz herself, are gone. And the YWCA, the agency she once loved, now considers Lewkowitz one of its biggest obstacles.

The problem was Middle Eastern politics -- and, as Lewkowitz tells it, her agency's board of directors.

At the 2003 YWCA World Council meeting in Brisbane, Australia, YWCA delegates passed a resolution for "freedom and dignity in the Middle East." The resolution condemned the U.S. (for being in Iraq) and Israel (for a host of "illegal actions" involving Palestine). The U.S. delegate was the only "no" vote.

Then came Doris Pagelkopf's Witness Report.

Pagelkopf, vice president of the World YWCA, visited Palestine and Jordan in the spring of 2004 as a guest of the YWCAs there. She met with the sister of Jordan's King Hussein and even visited Yasser Arafat in his bunker.

Then, armed with the insight of a well-meaning Lake Wobegon liberal who's spent all of two weeks in Palestine, Pagelkopf compiled a five-page report bemoaning the actions of Israel and the U.S. government.

"We heard over and over again of the hate for the current USA President and his advisors," she wrote. "It was so overwhelming that some days my friends would ask me at the end of the day if I was okay."

But Pagelkopf was sympathetic. "It is very understandable why the Arab world does not like the administration after the advent of the Iraq war," she wrote.

Visiting Palestine, Pagelkopf added, "I strongly felt a correlation to World War II. During that war Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews and now a group of Israelis, not all Israelis, is trying to choke off and rid the land of Palestinians."

Pagelkopf had insisted earlier that the trip was not anti-Israeli. ("NO, NO, NO," she wrote.) But the report focused on the Palestinians' mistreatment, without a word about Arafat's history of terrorism or unwillingness to accept a two-state solution.

And then there was that Hitler reference, about as subtle as a suicide bomber in a synagogue.

When Lewkowitz called the YWCA offices, they assured her that the link to the report had been removed.

But she knew the report was out there. And that was enough.

She brought a copy to the president of her agency's board, Connie Robinson. Lewkowitz wanted the Maricopa County YWCA to pass a resolution condemning it.

"I don't know how many times I said to her, 'This is a big issue for me, and we need to talk about it,'" Lewkowitz says.

But Robinson had never been warm to the executive director. Both staffers and board members say that Robinson's attitude toward Lewkowitz could be dismissive, even rude. "She would just totally be ignoring whatever Barbara had to say," recalls Sandra Wagner, then the YWCA's grant coordinator. "Or she'd give her looks when she was talking. Like she couldn't be bothered with her."

Lewkowitz's pleas for action on the Witness Report triggered a similar disdain. Robinson would tell Lewkowitz they'd talk next week. Or when she returned from a business trip.

They never did.

Lewkowitz photocopied Pagelkopf's report and distributed it to the board's executive committee. She held a meeting to discuss it, but none of them came.

In August, one of the board's veteran members, Abbie Beller, resigned. Beller said she was unhappy with both the World Resolution on the Middle East and Pagelkopf's report.

"Abbie said she cannot support an organization that dismisses the need to address the anti-Israel stance directly and is not inclusive," according to board minutes.

It was a clear call for local action, but no one was answering it.

Lewkowitz gave a copy of Pagelkopf's Witness Report to everyone at the meeting. She never got a response.


The first thing people say about Connie Robinson is how attractive she is. Even a process server who once gave her papers noted in his official documents that she was pretty. A slender black woman with perfect hair and makeup, she couldn't be a bigger contrast to the sensible Lewkowitz.

Robinson's built an impressive résumé. She's worked in human resources for Motorola and the Arizona Supreme Court, and served on the Arizona Foundation for Women and the City of Phoenix's Equal Opportunity Commission. She and her second husband, an MIT grad, own their own north Phoenix human resources consulting firm, the Gideon Group.

Behind the scenes, things are messier. In the past five years, Robinson has twice nearly lost her home to foreclosure, according to county records. The check covering her initial $25 contribution to the YWCA bounced. This May, the state government filed a lien for the Gideon Group's back taxes.

None of that stopped Robinson from volunteering for just about everything. She was chairing the Maricopa County YWCA's Tribute to Women gala when she ran for board president, an unpaid position. When she was elected, in October 2003, she immediately announced that she'd also chair the fund-raising committee. She didn't get around to holding a meeting for at least a year.

When Abbie Beller resigned, Robinson seized another opportunity. Beller had been Maricopa's representative to the regional YWCA. Even though two other board members volunteered to replace her, Robinson announced that she'd fill the vacancy herself.

Robinson frustrated Lewkowitz on the Israel issue in her first regional meeting, held in Fort Worth.

Lewkowitz had teamed up with delegates from two other YWCAs to draft a resolution. It was intentionally uncontroversial: nothing about Doris Pagelkopf, Israel, or Hitler. It merely called for the World YWCA to draft procedures to ensure "balanced study" of global conflict.

A vote was scheduled for the final afternoon of the September regional meeting. But when the delegates broke for lunch, Maricopa's representatives -- Robinson and the board's vice president, a City of Phoenix employee named Carolyn Bristo -- left. They didn't return in the afternoon.

Since neither picked a proxy, the region didn't have a quorum. The resolution didn't pass.

When asked about the matter recently, Robinson claimed that she and Bristo had to leave early to catch a flight back to Phoenix.

But Lewkowitz saw Bristo later that afternoon: They rode the same shuttle to the airport. She became convinced that Robinson and Bristo had slipped away rather than deal with the issue. (Bristo says she has no memory of the meeting and just wants to move on.)

Later that month, the resolution was approved with an e-mail vote. Maricopa voted "yes."

But Lewkowitz was too frustrated to consider the matter resolved. By that point, she'd agitated for months, only to be rebuffed at every turn. Acquiescence to a statement calling for "balance" wasn't enough to resolve what she increasingly saw as anti-Israel bias.

"That's the YWCA's mission: eliminating racism and empowering women," she says. "And there are a lot of people who still think anti-Semitism is racism."

So she urged Robinson, again, to discuss the Witness Report, or to just put it on the agenda.

Nothing.

The final straw came when Robinson scheduled an unrelated meeting on Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. Jews go to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah the way even lapsed Catholics make it to church on Easter.

But Robinson was annoyed when Lewkowitz said she had to leave early. She couldn't understand why Lewkowitz couldn't just join her "family dinner" a little late.

The High Holidays call for reflection. And so Lewkowitz reflected.

She announced her resignation at the September board meeting. She told the board it was because of the Israel issue.

"If they'd just said, 'Let's talk about this,' I might not have resigned," she says. "But ignoring it -- that's like saying it isn't important."

It felt personal.

The board accepted her resignation.

No one said, "Don't go." Or, "Let's talk about it." Or, "What about Israel?"

One of the newer board members, Gya Watson, remembers sitting there, wondering why no one was talking about the issue.

"I wish I had said, 'We need to be talking about this,'" Watson says. "But the attitude seemed to be, if you don't see it or hear about it, it doesn't exist. That's how it was handled."

Robinson said the board would honor Lewkowitz at its annual meeting and also at Tribute to Women, the agency's high-profile March gala.

Lewkowitz was honored at the annual meeting, just as Robinson had promised. She was given a gift card.

But no one got around to honoring Lewkowitz at the March gala. By then, things were so ugly, Robinson went to court to bar her from attending.


The women who blame Lewkowitz for everything that's happened to the YWCA offer vague statements like, "She just couldn't let go." They're convinced Lewkowitz drove the ongoing flap, even if they can't quite explain how she, as one person acting alone, managed to keep a controversy alive for months.

For hard evidence, pretty much all they've got is that Lewkowitz took her concerns public. Last November, she gave the Arizona Republicher reasons for leaving, which was followed by an account in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

The stories caused a firestorm.

"People in the Jewish community were dumbfounded, upset, hurt," recalls Herb Paine, who'd come on as interim director when Lewkowitz resigned and is himself Jewish. He runs his own business, consulting for nonprofits. "Plus we were hearing from people outside the Jewish community, who saw this as a failure of conscience."

Defensive, board members quickly settled on an excuse, one they still use today: Lewkowitz hadn't told them she was leaving because of Israel; she said it was for personal reasons. Never mind that minutes from the September board meeting say otherwise. The minutes, Connie Robinson insists, are not reliable.

Perhaps because Pagelkopf's report has become so controversial, everything about it is contentious -- even whether it was formally circulated. The YWCA USA spokeswoman claims the report was never officially released, that a draft version went out by accident. (That doesn't quite explain how it ended up on the Southwest Delta Regional Web site.)

But despite all the quibbling, some things are irrefutable: Lewkowitz's resignation triggered serious concerns in the Jewish community. But rather than meet with Jewish leaders, Connie Robinson stalled until tensions were so high there was no easy fix.

And for that, there are plenty of witnesses.

One of them, Janet Marcotte, is executive director of the Tucson YWCA. Marcotte, who is not Jewish but understood the volatility of the situation, immediately tried to get Maricopa's board together with Phoenix's Jewish leadership to defuse the issue.

But Connie Robinson made it clear she had no interest in that. She missed a conference call, skipped a meeting with the Jewish Community Relations Council, and didn't return calls or e-mails.

She also rejected an easy chance to make peace.

Marcotte was sponsoring a resolution on the national level that clearly objected to the language in Pagelkopf's report and the anti-Israel bias in the 2003 World Resolution. When Marcotte asked the Maricopa County YWCA to add its name as a co-sponsor, Robinson finally returned a call, but only to say the Maricopa County YWCA wasn't interested. They were too busy.

As for Lewkowitz, she paid a price for being outspoken. She'd always intended to stay part of the organization. She planned to push for continued change through a Middle East Task Force organized by the national YWCA office.

But in February, a letter mistakenly released by the national YWCA indicated that the YWCA USA's CEO, Peggy Sanchez Mills, wanted Lewkowitz off the task force "with a passion."

Today, the YWCA spokesman, Debra Roth, says the task force that Lewkowitz was on has been "rebuilt." And Lewkowitz is no longer on it.


Abbie Beller couldn't get the Maricopa County YWCA's attention by resigning from the board. Barbara Lewkowitz couldn't do it by quitting her job. Janet Marcotte couldn't make a difference.

The one person who did, kind of, was Carolyn Warner. And that was only because Warner's concern threatened the Maricopa County YWCA's premier fund raiser.

Every year since 1994, the Maricopa County YWCA has honored nearly a dozen women at its Tribute to Women gala. This year, one of the biggest "names" among the honorees was Carolyn Warner, the former gubernatorial candidate, state superintendent of public instruction and longtime Democratic party leader.

She heard about Lewkowitz's resignation. Then she checked out the World YWCA's Web site and read its resolutions for herself.

Warner, a Methodist, wasn't happy. And she wanted to know what the Maricopa County YWCA was going to do about it.

The task of mollifying Warner fell to Herb Paine, then the interim executive director. He explained that the Maricopa board had added its vote to the regional statement calling for "balance."

Not good enough, Warner said.

(Warner did not return calls for comment, but YWCA records, as well as interviews with Paine and Jewish leaders, confirm her involvement.)

Finally, on December 2, the board swung into action. That night, members held an emergency meeting and passed a statement decrying the World YWCA's statements about Israel.

That should have been it.

But it wasn't. Paine forwarded the statement to the Jewish News and several Jewish organizations -- but then got an odd e-mail from Robinson asking him to hold off. It was too late, of course. It wasn't a huge surprise when Paine started hearing reports that board members were backing away from the statement and downplaying it to the YWCA's supporters.

"There was a begrudging acceptance of this statement and a reluctance about it," Paine says. "It was like they'd been pushed into a corner and regretted doing it." He resigned in early January, frustrated by the board members' recalcitrance.

Warner kept pushing. She contacted Rabbi Robert Kravitz, executive director of Arizona's American Jewish Committee, and asked him to meet with the board.

In February, the YWCA board members met with Kravitz, and promised to write a letter denouncing anti-Israel bias and publish it in both the Jewish News and the Arizona Republic. As a show of good faith, Rabbi Kravitz would give an invocation at the Tribute luncheon.

But the fragile treaty quickly collapsed. First, the Jewish News advertisement immediately drew derision. The ad condemned the World YWCA's 2003 resolution against Israel -- and then added, with more than a pinch of defensiveness, that the board of directors had actually denounced the resolution every month from September through February. (There was no mention of Pagelkopf's report.)

The implication: All the Jewish complaining had been completely unnecessary.

The statement, however, was untrue. There's no record the board condemned the resolution any time before the special meeting on December 2.

No ad ever appeared in the Republic.

The reasons for that are even more bizarre. Lisa Benson, a Jewish consultant the YWCA hired specifically to deal with the Israel issue, says she advised against it. Crazy people who hate Jews might see the ad, she says, jeopardizing the women at the YWCA's shelter.

But even if that was a legitimate reason for backing out, Benson can't explain why the YWCA didn't call the Jewish leaders to let them know about its change of heart. "I don't want to get into 'he said, she said,'" Benson says.

Without any word from the YWCA board, Rabbi Kravitz assumed they'd reneged. He kept expecting the phone to ring, waiting to be told that he was no longer giving the invocation at the March gala.

The phone never rang. And so the rabbi began to wonder if maybe the gala was just the opportunity he'd been waiting for: a chance to get his point across, in a place where the YWCA would be forced to listen.


In the months leading up to the Tribute to Women luncheon, the mood at the YWCA of Maricopa County turned ugly.

Since Lewkowitz's departure, business had come to a standstill. The YWCA didn't update its Web site, complete an annual report, or send out a newsletter.

And it still didn't have an executive director.

Herb Paine had warned in his organizational assessment in December that the agency's financial position was precarious. The Maricopa County YWCA was running at a $37,000 deficit for the fiscal year, and revenue was stagnant, according to a copy of Paine's report obtained by New Times.

The agency, he wrote, had "no margin for error."

After Paine quit, the board appointed the agency's longtime director of community relations, Vicky Drake, as the new interim executive director. That didn't last long, either. One weekend soon after Drake's promotion, board members called the executive staffers and told them to stay home Monday -- all except Drake. That morning, she was fired, barred from even collecting the personal things in her office. A police officer escorted her out the door.

Even staff members who support the board say Drake's biggest crime was supporting Lewkowitz. "She bought right into what Barbara was telling her," says Joan Brainard, the YWCA's senior services director. "She was insubordinate."

(Robinson declined to discuss the termination.)

The next morning, remaining staffers arrived to find the locks had been changed. The board held a meeting to announce it was the beginning of a new era. Until a new director could be hired, the board, led by Connie Robinson, would run the agency itself.

After the meeting, Robinson made it clear just what the new era meant. She told Sandra Wagner, the YWCA's grant coordinator, that she was being put on paid leave. There was no reason given. Again, a police officer escorted her out the door.

Four months later, Wagner learned she'd been fired.

The board, too, shrank. The board had long been plagued by infighting, and it got even worse in Lewkowitz's absence, says board member Teresa Santiago.

"You had bitchy e-mails going back and forth, and parts of board meetings that were spent having to explain, 'Okay, we need to treat people with respect.' And these were 50-year-old women!" she says. "The board just got smaller and smaller."

A total of six board members, including Santiago, would quit in the months following Lewkowitz's resignation. Many cite the acidic climate on the board and Drake's abrupt termination.

But instead of wondering if they had a problem, the remaining board members became increasingly defensive. After Gya Watson e-mailed her resignation, no one e-mailed back to thank her for her service -- but two board members did write to defend themselves and criticize her for not attending enough meetings. Another ex-board member says Robinson called her personally to berate her for privately questioning Robinson's leadership.

Even people who considered Lewkowitz's resignation none of their business were wondering what was wrong with the board. Susan Edwards, a former Tribute to Women honoree, says she decided to boycott this year's luncheon after hearing about the fired employees.

"You just do not hire a policeman and fire everyone without giving them a reason," she says. "Especially an organization that represents itself as empowering women."

In March, things got even nastier. One day before the Tribute to Women luncheon, a process server showed up at Barbara Lewkowitz's front door.

Connie Robinson had gone to the Central Phoenix Justice Court and gotten the judge to issue a temporary injunction, barring Lewkowitz from going to the YWCA offices, contacting people there, attending the Tribute luncheon, or using "defamation to dissuade others from attending."

Lewkowitz says she hadn't planned to attend. She also hadn't tried to dissuade others.

"Why would I do that?" she asks.

She later learned that Herb Paine and Steve Carr, the agency's former public relations consultant, had gotten the same court order. Both men say they never said anything bad about the YWCA -- to do so, they say, would be unprofessional. And Carr's father was extremely ill; the last thing on his mind was going to his former client's luncheon, much less mounting a campaign against the event.

They couldn't imagine why they'd been singled out for legal action.

Really, the three had only two things in common: They had resigned from the YWCA, and they were Jewish.


On the day of the Tribute to Women luncheon, Rabbi Robert Kravitz arrived at the Arizona Biltmore Resort, unsure of whether he was still supposed to give the invocation.

When he saw his name in the program, he figured he was on. And so, when his moment came, he walked up to the podium and offered his prayer, before 1,000 people.

"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.

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.

(Attempts to contact Roy Dawson prior to publication were unsuccessful.)

Robinson has been on the City of Phoenix's Equal Opportunity Commission. She's written essays stressing the importance of sensitivity training. And, at the time, she was president of a group devoted to eliminating racism.

But she didn't attempt to educate her brother-in-law. Instead, she agreed.

"Hey Roy," Robinson wrote. "This is quite informative and quite timely." She mentioned her call from the Jewish News and noted that she had responded, per Carter's instruction, that the YWCA would not be used as a "platform."

"By reading attached, I was right on!" she wrote.

Dawson e-mailed back.

"You need to call Farakahn [sic] and let him take care of them for you," he wrote. "It is easy to see why they have had so much trouble over the centuries isn't it."

When questioned about the e-mail in July, Robinson said, "How did you get that?" Then she said she was late for a trip, and quickly got off the phone.


In July, the Maricopa County YWCA hired a new executive director. Kathy Ryan, who won the job after two and a half years on the board, is a petite blonde with an explosive laugh and a background in both public relations and fund-raising. On the board, she was seen as Connie Robinson's supporter.

Ryan insists she doesn't want to talk about the past. "If just a portion of this energy focused on divisiveness could be channeled into a positive approach and working towards unity . . . ," she says. "That's how I choose to move this organization forward."

Still, she can't seem to help herself.

Initially, Ryan says she sees the Israel flap as a great example of diversity: People have different opinions.

But then she adds, "It is inappropriate for this organization to become the platform for one group at the expense of another." Making nice with the Jewish leaders, she implies, would be a way of disenfranchising people who support Palestine.

Would she meet with the Jewish community? Instead of answering the question, she seizes on the phrase "community": "People are individuals, and I don't lump people together that way."

More than anything, Ryan and her supporters can't seem to understand how a report written by a woman in Minnesota, distributed through an e-newsletter on the East Coast, about a situation in the Middle East, has become a major issue in Phoenix and nowhere else.

For that, she blames the Jewish leaders.

"All this energy from people seeking the media spotlight," she sighs at one point. "Trying to make an issue of whether or not people have feelings about a dispute between two nations across the world!"

But if she's angry, she didn't show it in a formal interview at the YWCA on August 1. She even gave a tour of the YWCA's homeless shelter. She said repeatedly that she believes the people upset about the issue are good people with good intentions.

Days later, Ryan's attorney, Dick Treon, contacted New Times and promised to sue if the story contains one defamatory word against Ryan or the YWCA. Treon's letter says Ryan believes the story will be "an attack piece on her and her organization."

Treon doesn't get into specifics. Instead, he repeatedly refers to Barbara Lewkowitz, her "cronies" and her "fellow travelers." He's been told, he writes, of their "viperous lies."

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