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Academics back RIBA's Israeli stance, as Gove wades in

A group of leading academics, cultural and political figures has backed the RIBA’s motion to censure the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) for ‘complicity in illegal settlement building’

The move came as education secretary Michael Gove reportedly slammed the institute’s stance, telling the Jewish Chronicle that the RIBA had shown ‘selective outrage’ by agreeing to lobby the International Architects Union (UIA) to suspend the membership of the Israeli architects’ representative body.

According to the newspaper, Gove questioned why the institute had not taken a similar stance against Syria and China at the JC Editor’s Choice event last Monday (31 March).

Meanwhile, the RIBA has been defended by a group of 65 Jewish and non-Jewish supporters - including artist Antony Gormley, politician Gerald Kaufman, architect Peter Ahrends and film director Mike Leigh - which branded the attacks on the institute as ‘politically motivated smears’.

A spokesman for the group said: ‘We are aware of the difficulties liable to be faced by any body which voices public criticism of the Israeli government.’                             

The list of signatories, which also includes landscape architect Charles Jencks, architect Kate Mackintosh and Neave Brown fomrerly of Camden Council’s Architects Department, congratulated the RIBA for passing the motion. The petition reads: ‘We understand that you have taken this action because members of IAUA have been closely involved in the design and building of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and also in the construction of the Apartheid Wall that runs deep into the illegally occupied area.  […]   Many people, Jewish and non-Jewish, architects and non-architects, will be heartened by this example of a respected body taking up its ethical and professional responsibilities in so resolute a manner.’

Since passing the motion last month Portland Place has come in for fierce criticism from a raft of organisations including its own Solo Practitioners Group.

Designer Stephen Games branded the motion ‘biased’, ‘misconceived’ and ‘shameful’ while Itzhak Lipovetzky, the IAUA’s head of foreign relations, has written to the British Prime Minister David Cameron and Israel’s own foreign ministry asking them to take action over the controversial RIBA move.

The RIBA motion, which claimed that the IAUA had paid no regard to the UIA Resolution 13 of 2005 and had failed to condemn Israeli architects who helped sustain Israel’s policy to allow Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory, was carried by 23 votes in favour, with 16 against and 10 abstentions (see AJ 20.03.2014) .

Previous story (AJ 04.04.14)

Israeli architects appeal to Cameron over RIBA motion

The Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to block a controversial RIBA motion against Israeli architects

The association’s head of foreign relations, Itzhak Lipovetzky is sending a letter to the British premier and is also petitioning Israel’s own foreign ministry after the RIBA agreed to press the International Architects Union (UIA) to suspend the membership of the Israeli architects’ representative body.

Lipovetzky told the Jerusalem Post: ‘When the British prime minister [David Cameron] was here, he promised not to boycott Israel. This was his statement in front of the Knesset.’

Portland Place has come in for fierce criticism from British architects and organisations working to promote peaceful coexistence in Israel and Palestine for its decision last week.

Designer Stephen Games branded the motion – calling on the International Architects Union (UIA) to suspend the membership of Israeli architects’ representatives – ‘biased’, ‘misconceived’ and ‘shameful’.

In a letter to RIBA president Stephen Hodder, he said: ‘No one could want to belong to a body that can be characterised as anti-semitic, nor is it appropriate that an institutionally anti-semitic body should retain its royal charter.’

However past president Angela Brady rebuffed criticism the motion she tabled was anti-semitic. Brady said she had acted following the IAUA’s continued failure to punish architects flouting the UIA’s 2005 Resolution 13 condemning the building of settlements on occupied land.

She added: ‘I am not anti-Semitic in anyway. Most people that are complaining are avoiding the issue; that motion was a focus on Israel and Palestine, on a situation recently highlighted by David Cameron and by Obama too.

She continued: ‘I am not talking about China or anywhere else and I’m not talking about who is worse than who and this is not a boycott. It is affirmation in terms of the UIA code of ethics and professionalism, that architects should not practice in occupied territories; it breaks international law.’

‘I have been to Palestine and I have seen at first-hand what is happening,’ she said.

Readers' comments (12)

  • Dear RIBA Council Member,
    With reference to your call for the Israeli Association of United Architects to be suspended from the International Architects Union, I am sure that you think that you are only making a stand against the policies of the ‘apartheid’ Israeli government so for contextual purposes consider the following.
    Firstly Israel’s treatment of it’s Arab citizens. There are 1.5m Arabs living in Israel who have one man one vote, who are represented by duly elected political parties and have all the freedoms of any Israeli citizen. Many are qualified Architects and members of the IAUA. Meanwhile there are 300m Arabs living in 22 sovereign states worldwide, all of whom would give their right arm to live under the freedoms enjoyed by the Israeli Arab.
    When you take on board reference by IAU to ‘illegal projects’ and ‘settlements’ you are referring to building in an area that was illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948. To get this into some perspective The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the East Bank of the Jordan River is a country that consists of most of Mandated Palestine and the present King Abdullah is from a tribe of Arabs who come from Saudi Arabia not the local area but he rules a country where 60% of the population are ‘Palestinian’ Arabs.
    In 1948 Jordan took control of the ‘West Bank’ of the River Jordan and Jews were kicked out of all those areas including Jerusalem. Their religious sites were desecrated and the area was made ‘Judenrein’ for the first time in 2000 years. Jordan’s occupation was never internationally recognized at the time, even by the Arab League, and therefore, the ‘ceasefire lines’ established after the Six Day War in 1967 are just that. They are not borders and are by no means set in stone.
    It is really sad when affluent Western do-gooders think they have an understanding of the politics and history of the region and cannot understand the way those matters impinge on the present situation, but what is really shocking is when a group of so called professionals succumb to the propaganda of the Socialist Workers Party and various so called human rights activists, and convince themselves that they are only being fair.
    I know that it is a mystery to the international community that Jews wanted to return to their homeland in Israel and were not satisfied with the alternative places that were offered to them over the years in Argentina, Uganda and indeed Russia.
    I am sorry that all of these places were rejected in favor of the area known for the 400 years prior to 1917, not as Palestine, but as the Ottoman Province of Southern Syria, an area of land, by the way, over which no Arab nation had ever claimed sovereignty and over which the only people who had ever exercised national and historic sovereignty were - the Jews.
    I assume that the Council believes that it has the right to judge and punish Israel for it’s behaviour towards the Palestinian Arabs. Strange, that the RIBA did not call for the suspension of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects over their government’s treatment of the Tamil Tigers over the last 26 years even when 20,000 civilians were killed a couple of years ago. Yes only 20,000 civilians, yet somehow you cannot sleep at night over the fact that Jews build houses in their historic homeland.
    Still, of course you are not anti-Semitic but I am sure you feel better for lobbying against the only free, democratic and pluralist nation in the Middle East.
    I suppose, as you know so much about the Middle East, and that you think that the settlements are an obstacle to peace. Maybe then, I can just disabuse you of the notion.
    At a political level, there are broadly three categories of settlements 1) suburban population growth over the green line 2) security settlements in the Jordan Valley and 3) other settlements in Judea and Samaria.
    The solutions to these three categories are well understood by both parties. Yes, you heard me, both parties. The first can be resolved by a mutually agreed exchange of land and the second will not be retained after security confidence has been established between the parties. As regards the third category, those settlements are built on land that has been legally appropriated under Ottoman Law, which, believe it or not, is actually the previous and most relevant legal system in the area.
    Ah, you will say what about ‘International’ Law. Well, you are an academic who studied for so many years to become an architect, why not spend a few days (or even hours) researching International Law and you will learn something.
    As a member of an Institute with a Royal Charter you will have heard of His Majesty’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour who understood all this in 1917 and made his famous declaration on behalf of the British Government “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people….”. Lord Balfour read the Bible, and for anyone who reads the Bible, even if they are not religious but merely regard is as a quasi historical document, it is pretty clear that the Jews are connected to the area including, by the way, Judea and Samaria (ie the ‘West Bank’)
    All this was contained in the preamble to the Treaty of Versaille of 1919 and thereby passed into International Law. Palestine at that time comprised the whole area from present day Jordan to the sea but was subsequently truncated by Winston Churchill who, at the stroke of a pen, gave 76% of Mandated Palestine to the Emir Abdullah (the present King’s grandfather).
    Obviously you would also be looking at the Fourth Geneva Convention (Articles 2 and 49) which were established after the World War 2 which articles refer to the ‘forceable’ transfer of populations to or from ‘sovereign’ territory. Guess what, despite what you read and see in the media there has been no ‘forceable’ transfer of any populations and the area is not sovereign.
    Anyway don’t worry, the ‘Palestinian’ Arabs don’t really want peace because if they did, they would have accepted the 95% deal they were offered by former prime minister Ehud Barak at Camp David. They also know that Israel could and would dismantle those settlements in the third category in exchange for peace but since they know that no one, including your goodself, is bothered that the proposed Palestinian State would be completely ‘Judenrein’, their aspirations are greater and they want the whole area free of Jews because even that will not, apparently, offend anyone’s sensibilities.
    Still, I get it, you are not antisemitic, just against the policies of the Israeli government.

    Derek Lewis

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  • Brady's motion was based on lies:

    http://cifwatch.com/2014/04/01/factual-errors-behind-the-anti-israel-vote-by-royal-institute-of-british-architects/

    Here are six of the 23 Council members who supported it:

    Elspeth Clements
    Tzena James
    Sam Webb
    Angela Brady
    George Oldham
    Owen O’Carroll

    (assuming the first three were at the meeting)

    Does anyone know who the other 17 were?

    The boycotters should be boycotted.

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  • Architects work at the human scale. Our practice and ethics must address the human implications of our work. We may not be engaged in geopolitics directly, but the least we can do as professionals is to ensure that we are not pawns, complicit in the suffering of others nor in the exacerbation of inequality. No side in this conflict can claim untainted moral high ground but I would challenge any architect, indeed anyone to visit Palestine and then defend the crude lack of humanity that the wall represents.
    I am a Jewish architect. I have many family members in Israel. My great grandfather was a first generation Zionist.
    I applaud and am proud of the stance of the RIBA.

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  • Regarding the Jewish signatories especially upholding RIBA's stance they are but apologists, and it seems to me they have been less than vociferous on other 'human rights blights'.
    Others who have also supported the stance I ask the following.
    Why have you and RIBA suddenly now agreed to the motion, if you are all so very concerned its it bit late is it not?

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  • @Katy Marks - On the contrary, since the security barrier has saved thousands of lives of those who would have been murdered by suicide bombers, it has CONTRIBUTED to humanity - not subtracted from it. The figures are incontrovertible.

    http://chersonandmolschky.com/2013/06/22/analyzing-false-accusations-israel-part-iii-apartheid-security-fence/

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  • The RIBA Motion being passed is a landmark decision that will at last address the unquestioning participation of Israeli architects in consolidating the dispossession of the Palestinian people out of their land, since 1948, and more drastically against international law, the Geneva Conventions, and over 65 UN Resolutions since 1967, including the unequivocal judgement by the International Criminal Court in 2004 that the Separation Wall and all the settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal.

    Instead of the absurd accusations of anti-semitism, and the appalling distortions of history and legality (hasbara) voiced above by those who support Israel uncritically, the Council and RIBA members who supported this historic motion, should be applauded for standing up for its own and the UIA's ethical codes of conduct, and the humane ideals of architecture, justice and society.

    The West Bank is being shattered by the aggressive and domineering expansion of settlements, destroying the precious landscape, and all built for the benefit of one people, to the displacement and detriment of the indigenous inhabitants.

    Appeals to the Israeli Association of United Architects to oppose these illegal projects, and stop its members building them were met with silence and detachment. The UIA's condemnation of these projects, linked with ethnic cleansing and erasure of Palestinan culture and traditional lives, met with an even greater acceleration of these settlements - a blow to the so-called peace process.

    The call for suspension is a necessary action, that the ICJ ruling says was required for all the high contracting parties like the US, UK and EU to take, including sanctions. This is a non-violent action, and necessary for professional institutions like the RIBA, because of the close association of Israeli architects with the State's colonial policies, and its military agenda, to call for the world's architects to say 'Enough is Enough". Instead we have the pathetic pronouncements by the Minister for Education who should brush up on his history and should know better.

    This is one of the longest and most brutal occupations in recent history. Palestinian civil society has appealed to the world to act to help end their oppression. If Israel wishes to be considered a democracy it must behave like one. This call for suspension will send a message that there is a price to pay for its decades long impunity to world condemnation of its profusely documented human rights breaches, and its insatiable land grab.

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  • Under international law, ethnic Jews have the right to establish and maintain communities on what is now called the West Bank. No international court that I am aware of has ever ruled against this. Under UN resolution 242 Israeli armed forces are called upon to vacate the West Bank (as part of an overall peace settlement), but not Israeli civilians and certainly not Jews. OK?
    Professor Geoffrey Alderman

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  • No judicial Court has ever ruled that the security barrier and the settlements are ‘illegal’. It was the International Court (not the ‘International Criminal Court’) in 2004 which advised that the barrier was not legal but this is a political body under the UN’s auspices – not a judicial Court – and Israel has no representation on it.

    The RIBA vote was based on misinformation, see here:

    http://cifwatch.com/2014/04/01/factual-errors-behind-the-anti-israel-vote-by-royal-institute-of-british-architects/

    The eminent architect Richard Meier knows this …

    http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/nlnet/content.aspx?c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=8776547&ct=13845979¬oc=1

    .. as do many many others, both inside and outside RIBA.

    In short the RIBA vote is going nowhere.

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  • More than half of the signatories of this letter can be relied on to sign ANY letter criticising Israel - however mendacious.

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  • Well, maybe more than half the opponents of that letter who write here may also be relied on to object to any criticism of Israeli actions, however valid?

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  • The main issue is here: criticising Israel does not make you an anti-semite. I think the RIBA is right in criticising what is happening on Palestine's land; we should all support it, even Israeli people, as this will only fuel more terrorism and violent reactions. I think jewish people still live in the fear of what their went through in the 20th century, hence their agressive defense mechanism. But to say the RIBA is anti-semite is just childish.

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  • It does not seem to penetrate the minds of the ubiquitous and doughty defenders of Israel's crimes, Jonathan Hoffman and Geoffrey Alderman that for all their bluster and twisted interpretations of history and international law, that every country in the world, except for Israel, recognises that Israel is illegally occupying the West Bank and blockading Gaza in a ring of steel,concrete and armed warships -thus effectively still under occupation. There are reams of UN Resolutions and articles in the 4th Geneva Convention, that confirm that the settlers and the settlements are illegal, and that the occupation must end. Innumerable reports by the UN, EU, Amnesty International, Oxfam and all the world human rights organisations have documented Israel's war crimes and extreme violence in displacing and dispossessing Palestinians, including the most sadistic suppression of protests against the stealing of land and building of the illegal and obscene Apartheid Wall -using the teargas, rubber bullets and live fire where many young people are killed (60 during the nine month peace charade) and children being arrested in their homes in the middle of the night. The International Court of Justice in 2004 declared the Wall illegal - nine leading judges for and one US judge against) -including the settlements , and all this has been planned and built by Israeli architects and the construction industry -making them complicit in war crimes. The ruling demanded that the Separation Wall and the illegal settlements be dismantled, and compensation for all the damage paid for by Israel. Instead, Israel has continued building the Wall and the settlements expanded in even greater ferocity.
    B'Tselem, Israel's own human rights organisation said this in their publication -"Land Grab". "Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the apartheid regime in South Africa."
    Like South Africa which was expelled from the UIA during the apartheid regime, Israel is now rightly up for consideration to be suspended from the UIA, under Resolution 13, and UIA Accords of professional ethics, which condemn the projects that breach international law and the Geneva Conventions -until Israel ends these illegal and inhumane practices in the field of architecture and planning. It is time that Israel is called to account -and its policies changed to conform with human rights and international law, and decades of oppression and occupation of the Palestinian people brought to an end.

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