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Libeskind and AIA join RIBA Israel row

Daniel Libeskind has accused RIBA of being ‘short-sighted’ over its motion to suspend Israeli architects from the International Architects Union (UIA)

The renowned New York-based architect who designed both the Berlin and Copenhagen Jewish Museums is a powerful voice in what has become a heated row following RIBA’s decision to pass the motion condemning Israeli architects that build in the Occupied Territories.

Libeskind said: ‘I am disappointed to learn of this action, especially from such a well-regarded institution as the RIBA. 

‘This decision seems to be completely counter to the mission of the RIBA; these actions are short-sighted and appear to be an attempt to simplify a very complex issue.’

In a further twist that will ratchet up the pressure on the institute, the head of the most powerful branch of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) – the US equivalent of RIBA, described the motion as ‘absurd’.

Rick Bell, executive director of AIA New York, which has 5,200 members, said: ‘I wish this had not happened and on behalf of the AIA New York, I wish it would go away.’

Bell said that he ‘thought the world’ of past RIBA president Angela Brady who tabled the original motion in March, but he said the decision was mistaken and called for it to be withdrawn because it was based on the ‘silly idea’ that RIBA could influence world events.

‘The idea that RIBA and the UIA could actively influence events through a resolution is patently absurd. World politics is played out on a much bigger stage,’ Bell said.

‘As a Jew and a non-Zionist this [RIBA motion] is regrettable and I strongly believe this is an issue that RIBA should not be pushing.’

Echoing comments made by Paul Finch in his column this week, Bell added: ‘Does it diminish or enhance the debate when you kick someone out of the room?’

The intervention by Libeskind and Bell follows last week’s revelation that Libeskind’s fellow New Yorker, Richard Meier, had written to RIBA president Stephen Hodder to voice his dismay at the decision: ‘I find this incredible that the RIBA which I thought of as being an extremely honourable institution would vote or agitate for sanctions against Israel,’ he wrote.

‘I and many, many other architects here in New York condemn this action and sincerely hope that it would be reversed.’

A RIBA spokesman said that Hodder would not be commenting on the situation and added that a reversal of the motion, which will be voted on at the UIA conference in Durban, South Africa in August, ‘was not being considered’ and ‘was not something that Stephen would do.’  

Readers' comments (12)

  • I endorse the motion to have US architects removed from UIA. As a Jew, and more importantly a human being, I consider that acting as architect for any development in the occupied territories as being complicit with theft. Tony Brohn

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  • Libeskind says the matter is complex.
    It is in fact quite simple. The land is out of bounds. Get out.

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  • it was inevitable that the AIA would disagree with this motion, the US government and the country's extremely powerful Jewish lobby being staunch supporters of any action the Israeli government chooses to do, no matter how inhumane or repressive in its purpose. Israel once (i.e.for a decade or so post 1967) had the support of the world in its endeavours to defend itself and its borders, but in recent years successive Israeli governments have consciously elected to alienate people previously sympathetic to its position, and I include myself in this latter group. Extremism of any sort - and building illegally on Palestinian land is difficult to consider as anything other than a direct provocation to a displaced and disenfranchised people - is hardly conducive to conflict resolution and an unlikely basis for any negotiations to prosper that might lead to peace in the region. Whilst not a member, I fully support the RIBA's position on this as it is important that our fellow architects in Israel - and their representative Association - understand the disquiet felt by many of their peers around the world at the involvement of some of their colleagues in the entirely unnecessary land grab being carried out as part of their government's policy. it is not a question of the RIBA or the UIA being able to influence world events - it is whether we as architects wish to retain any moral or ethical stance or whether we are happy to accede to the excesses of some of our fellow professionals because we are too spineless to tell them they are out of order. As Edmund Burke famously said, "all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" and in this instance I would add that this is not the complicated issue that some would suggest: it is simply a question of whether or not involvement in building these settlements is likely to be conducive to future peace in the Middle East. The architects working on these projects are at least - in their own, and some would say perverse, way - being honest with themselves: they are willingly engaging in a dangerous political act and appear to be entirely content about the difficulties being placed in the way of long term peace in the region by their actions. For I and many other architects around the world not to speak out against such extreme behaviour is to be nothing less than complicit in these activities.

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  • Intriguing how this motion by RIBA has suddenly arrived on their radar.

    Perhaps RIBA and the detractors study the history and that especially of the British Mandate.

    I certainly hear not a squeak regarding Syria, but then perhaps many RIBA members are awaiting their opportunity to obtain lucrative commissions for rebuilding in the distant future.

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  • I am absolutely appalled at the statements of Daniel Libeskind, Rick Bell and Paul Finch. These are supposed to be leading lights in the world of architecture, the profession most involved with the housing of people and the good of society, with an ethical code of conduct -and have written intellectual treatise and in depth articles on architecture -and yet cannot see see the importance of this landmark motion -which is of historical significance of architects making a stand on an issue which has been intractable due to Israel's actions of immunity and impunity.The world powers, especially the US and UK have let us down. They have bolstered Israel's power, while condemning the illegality of Israel's decades long brutal occupation and dispossession of Palestinians, that is actually continuing within Israel today, with the Judaisation policies in the Negev, the Galilee and Israel's cities, where settlers are infiltrating Arab neighbourhoods on land that is refuse for their desperately needed housing.
    If politicians refuse to act, civic and professional society can. Palestinian civil society have asked for world support with such action. The RIBA not only confirms the UIA Resolution which condemns Israel's expansionist and ethnic cleansing projects, it upholds the UIA accords and asks the UIA to act to suspend a member country whose architects are pursuing projects considered as war-crimes. Years of trying to get the UIA to respond have failed.Settlement expansion has doubled in the last two years. Now is the time for action. As a Jew myself, and chair of 'Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine'' and together with the two Israeli architects who are the most expert on this situation, Eyal Weizman and Rafi Segal, who co-edited the most devastating document "A Civilian Occupation" which revealed every aspect of the politics of Israeli architecture -who have eloquently stated their support of the RIBA Council's motion -I suggest the eminent decriers of the RIBA read Eyal's and Rafi's book -and actually support the very logical move at the forthcoming UIA Congress and Assembly at Durban in August -and support Israel's suspension as a member country. This will send a salutary message that a country that declare's itself a democracy, should start behaving like one.

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  • I am shocked but not surprised at Mr. Wilson's gratuitous slur of a hypothesis: "It was inevitable that the AIA would disagree with this motion, the US government and the country's extremely powerful Jewish lobby being staunch supporters of any action the Israeli government chooses to do, no matter how inhumane or repressive in its purpose. " "Inevitable"--seriously? The notion that some "powerful Jewish lobby" dictates what an American professional architectural association would say is as preposterous as it is offensive and bigoted. Few beliefs are more central to classic antisemitic thought than the fear of some Jewish group exercising sinister power to the detriment of society as a whole.
    Perhaps now readers will see why this boycott effort is not only risible but redolent of stereotypes that should have no place in legitimate discourse.

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  • @Tony Brohn

    You say "complicit with theft". Just to clarify, theft from whom?

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  • Mr Wilson's suggestion that opposition to this motion must be due to "an extremely powerful Jewish lobby" is deeply offensive. The Solo Practitioners Group of the UK has come out against the motion. I guess Mr Wilson believes that the "extremely powerful Jewish lobby" was behind this as well.

    It may not suit the prejudices of some but the truth is that those who opposed this motion - both on RIBA Council and elsewhere - do so because it was based on falsehoods and should be ignored by the UIA:

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

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  • Perhaps, if he REALLY feels so strongly, it would be more honourable for Daniel Libeskind to put some skin in the game and renounce his International RIBA Fellowship, awarded in 2000? Similarly, Richard Meier might send back the Royal Gold Medal he was awarded by the 'well-regarded' RIBA in 1988. If they're men, Daniel and Richard, they would both stand up and back their words with action. If they don't - and who thinks they won't - it's all just so much puff and bluster..

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  • Perhaps, if he REALLY feels so strongly, it would be more honourable for Daniel Libeskind to put some skin in the game and renounce his International RIBA Fellowship, awarded in 2000? Similarly, Richard Meier might send back the Royal Gold Medal he was awarded by the 'well-regarded' RIBA in 1988. If they're men, Daniel and Richard, they would both stand up and back their words with action. If they don't - and who thinks they won't - it's all just so much puff and bluster..

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  • Are you suggesting you think DL makes use of his International RIBA Fellowship, Shane ? As for RM's Gold Medal awarded in 1988, that seems a long time ago; do you think he has it to hand ? Unfortunately, it's things like this that make everyone wonder if Puff and Bluster is all the RIBA is about.

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  • Good news that the IUA has declined to have the RIBA motion considered at its Durban meeting.

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