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Stephen Hodder in bid to draw a line under Israeli settlements row

Institute president Stephen Hodder has attempted to draw a line under the controversy surrounding the RIBA’s stance on Israel

Hodder insisted that the International Architects Union (UIA) would not be acting on the RIBA’s resolution to censure the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) for failing to punish architects building settlements on occupied land. He said: ‘The UIA has responded to say this issue is beyond their political scope [and] that they will not take any further action.’

In a letter to the RIBA, UIA president Albert Dubler said: ‘The recent little but important changes in the Middle East bring some hope for peace in the region. We cannot take the risk to endanger this hope.’

The news emerges as former British Land chairman John Ritblat and his art patron wife Jill hit out at the institute for passing the resolution. The pair, who are both RIBA honorary fellows, said the institute should not become ‘an engine for political manipulation or bias’.

In an open letter sent to Hodder, among others, Jill Ritblat said: ‘We both feel that the RIBA is not and should not be a political organisation. My understanding is that it is meant to be a cultural and educational stronghold representing the best of British values in its field […] not an arbiter of either morality or opinion on race, creed or colour, or an engine for political manipulation or bias.’

Jill Ritblat, who has been a driving force behind the British Architectural Trust Board and who helped found the RIBA Patrons organisation, added: ‘This is not about being a Zionist or not, or what my opinion is or is not. It is about the RIBA using its considerable weight and its royal charter in support of a contentious political view.’

‘The next thing we know this minority will be running a campaign involving undemocratic rule in China, Tibet, Burma, North Korea, the Sudan, Russia, Venezuela and the Ukraine.’

In response, George Oldham, who supported the censure motion brought by former RIBA president Angela Brady in March, said: ‘It is disingenuous to claim that political action is outside the RIBA’s remit.

‘You must know that the RIBA, like other organisations blessed with your support, often engages with government on funding and policies such as homelessness.

‘What is this other than proper political involvement? It is nice to be able to stick to celebrating cultural achievement but sometimes you have to stick your head above the parapet.’

Hodder added: ‘The Ritblats are great supporters of the RIBA and we need to respect their views and keep people like that engaged with the RIBA.’

Asked whether the agenda for his presidency was being damaged by the Israel row, Hodder said: ‘We have to keep focused on mine and the RIBA’s agenda, which is challenging, when you have issues like this. However, I remain focused.’

The motion will be discussed at the next RIBA Council meeting on 19 June.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Why should we respect the views of the Ritblats on a matter they clearly cannot see with any impartiality? Isreali architects are building on illegally occupied land. This is a fact. The RIBA must stand up for good, ethical architecture and respect the vote that has been passed. The parallels with Apartheid era South Africa are chilling and the rebuttals that regime gave to all criticism of its "separate development" horrors are being repeated today in full measure. Some backbone, please, Mr President.

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  • The reaction by the RIBA President is concerning and disappointing -includiing that of the Ritblats -since this whole issue of 'political scope' has been dealt with as a misleading misrepresentation by the UIA President Albert Dubler. Firstly, if the UIA has any political scope -this is exactly its remit, (as it was in the 1970s when the UIA and the RIBA expelled South Africa) since it is the UIA's own very political Resolution 13, passed twice, the last time in 2009, specifically in relation to projects involving Israel's breaches of the Geneva Convention and its ethnic cleansing and erasure of Palestinian culture and history. Since the IAUA's members continue ignoring this Resolution which actually involves serious professional misconduct and breaches of the ethical and professional UIA Accords -and the IAUA turns a blind eye to this with total detachment, any professional association whose members subscribe to a code of ethics yet suffers them to break the law is surely no longer strictly speaking a professional association. Ergo, they (i.e. the Israeli Architects Association) should be disqualified from membership in the UIA which is, at least ostensibly an association of professional memberships.

    By refusing to actively pursue the RIBA Council's democratically voted Motion on 19 March for Israel' suspension from the UIA, its President Hodder, and the UIA' s President Dubler are colluding and collaborating with the IAUA -whom Dubler had given firm assurances that the Motion will not proceed -without allowing all the UIA General Assembly to decide. This is disgraceful and scandalous -since the Palestinians, who are suffering the decades long occupation, violent oppression and dispossession resulting from Israel's massive real-estate enterprise built by Israeli architects, against international law, have requested that this matter of suspension of the IAUA is taken up urgently on the Agenda -as a sheer emergency.
    This is an historic opportunity to send a message to Israel that of it wants to be considered a democracy, it has to behave like one. Its architects, who build the physical reality of the Occupation need to learn there is a price to pay, until they change and condemn this unacceptable professional, unethical and immoral situation.

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  • It is incumbent on Mr van Rooyen to say precisely WHY the Ritblats are “not impartial”. While he’s at it maybe he can explain how the Palestine Solidarity Campaign supporters who were behind the RIBA motion are ‘impartial'.

    The claims that Judea and Samaria are illegally occupied and that Israel has acted contrary to international law are refuted here:

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

    The baseless ‘apartheid’ smear is easily refuted. For example the Supreme Court has an Arab Justice and there are Arabs in the Israeli diplomatic service. Arabs have served in the Cabinet. It was an Arab judge who sentenced a former President of Israel to jail for seven years for a rape conviction.

    Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab journalist, said “If Israel were an apartheid state, I, for example, would not be allowed to work for a Jewish newspaper or live in a Jewish neighbourhood or own a home. The real apartheid is in Lebanon, where there is a law that bans Palestinians from working in over 50 professions. Can you imagine if the Knesset passed a law banning Arabs from working even in one profession? The law of Israel does not distinguish between a Jew and an Arab”.

    The RIBA motion was based on incorrect information which demonised Israel - and it seems that it was sprung on the RIBA Council with no chance for the truth to come out.

    As such it is entirely appropriate that the motion is going precisely nowhere.

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