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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 (4)

  • Mr Itzhak Lipovetzky of Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) was also quoted in an article on the Jersualem Post website yesterday in a reference to the activities of the IAUA that :
    “We have freedom of mind and freedom of occupation,”

    This clearly speaks volumes of the mindset of the IAUA in relation to the construction of illegal Israeli settlements and the effects thereof on Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

    Unsurprisingly, he realised what he had admitted to and the quote was removed from this morning's version of the article. I have contacted the JP to clarify the removal of this key statement.

    It can still be seen though by searching the article, luckily Google keeps a cache of articles and their revisions.

    “We have freedom of mind and freedom of occupation,”

    I hope Mr. Lipovetzky includes this assertion in his correspondence with David Cameron (who for the record disagrees with settlement construction, and reaffirmed this position in the Knesset on the 12th of March "We back the compromises needed, including a halt to settlement activity")

    Once more:

    “We have freedom of mind and freedom of occupation,”

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  • Mr Scott seems to have misunderstood Mr Lipovetsky's remarks. What Mr Lipovetsky was actually reported to have said was that "[the Israeli Association of United Architects'] membership is diverse and represents all segments of Israeli society, including those living on both sides of the pre-1967 lines. This is a democratic and non-political organization. There are members of the organization that are working in the West Bank and of course there are others who are not. There are a lot of opinions for and against. We have freedom of mind and freedom of occupation."

    Mr Lipovetsky was saying that within the IAUA, members are allowed to think what they like and work where they wish. The professional body does not dictate to them but allows them freedom of conscience. That seems admirable. Perhaps Mr Scott was thinking that Mr Lipovetsky's use of the word "occupation" referred to disputed territories and not to employment. If so, he was mistaken.

    In addition, Mr Lipovetsky did not "realise" what he had "admitted to", nor was a quote removed accordingly. News stories get shorter as they get further from the events they refer to, and all papers crop over the day to make space. On both points it is important to understand what one is talking about - in this case, how the press works - and not jump to conclusions, especially conspiratorial conclusions.

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  • Mr Fulcher's article states:
    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.

    It would be constructive if he could substantiate this statement which appears more as an opinion and not to be based on any evidence.

    His grammar presumes "architects and organisations" as a joint noun, described precisely as "working to promote peaceful coexistence in Israel and Palestine." I have seen no evidence to justify this assertion.

    The phrase "peaceful coexistence" means, precisely, an equality of existence in peace.

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  • John is right. I don’t think that the RIBA has been overwhelmed by criticism, but it’s interesting to note the quarters that external criticism has already come from.

    The RIBA’s call has been condemned by the British Council, which has said that the motion did not reflect the views of the profession. Vicky Richardson, the Council’s director of architecture, design and fashion, has said: “Many architects rightly see this [call for suspension] as divisive and unhelpful. It's better to let architects choose who they want to work with and keep international links and communication open. Boycotts close off discussion and debate."

    Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre has written to the International Union of Architects claiming that the RIBA had “allowed itself to become the victim of an extremist group of spoilers” and questioning why similar action had not been taken against IAU members from countries with the worst records on human rights abuse, including China, North Korea, Sudan and Turkey.

    Israeli architects have appealed to their own Foreign Ministry and to the British government to help prevent the IUA from suspending their membership over the issue of West Bank settlements. The energy that has been invested in boycotts as a political tool should be spent instead on mutual Israeli Palestinian projects, the president of their organisation has said. The Israeli institute had good relations with its Palestinian colleagues and had five years ago tried to bring French architects to work in Gaza, but had had its efforts blocked by Hamas.

    In the UK, the Jewish Chronicle has pointed out that while seeking to ban Israeli architects from the IUA, hundreds of British architects work in countries that carry out human rights abuses on an industrial scale, unlike Israel, and that the RIBA has itself just ratified agreements with two groups of architects in Libya, which ranks 13th in the Observer newspaper’s top 20 list of human rights abusers for crimes involving women, gays, corruption, and the use of false imprisonment and torture.

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