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Ex-British Land boss Ritblat urges RIBA to rethink Israel stance


Former British Land chairman John Ritblat and his art-patron wife Jill have told the RIBA ‘to stay out of politics’ in an attack on the institute’s resolution against the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA)

The pair, who are both RIBA honorary fellows, said the institute should not become ‘an engine for political manipulation or bias’ and criticised the recent motion calling for Israel to be suspended from the International Architects Union (UIA).

Adopted on 19 March, the motion tabled by past president Angela Brady followed the IAUA continued failure to punish architects breaching the UIA’s 2005 Resolution 13 which condemns the building of settlements on occupied land.

In an open letter sent to, among others RIBA president Stephen Hodder, 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, and as such should not engage in actions that may be the opinion of some of its members, but are beyond its remit.  It is an institutional ‘trade union’ for its members, and it is not an arbiter of either morality or opinion on race, creed or colour, or an engine for political manipulation or bias.’

Jill Ritblat, who is a former member of the RIBA British Architectural Trust Board, and her husband join a growing list of objectors to the resolution.

In April the institute’s own Solo Practitioners Group (SPG) came out against the motion (see AJ 03.04.14) as did the American Institute of Architects (AIA) – the US equivalent of RIBA (see AJ 17.04.14).  

In response ex-institute president Brady said: ‘Some people see the RIBA as a club, others expect the RIBA to stand the moral ethical ground and be responsible architects for the good of society.’

Meanwhile it has also emerged that the resolution would not be debated, as hoped by the RIBA, at the UIA’s forthcoming annual congress in Durban, South Africa.

A spokeswoman for the UIA said: ‘[The expulsion] of the Israeli Association of United Architects, is not part of the next UIA General Assembly’s agenda.’



Readers' comments (8)

  • In addition the RIBA motion was based on incorrect facts, see:


    All in all it is entirely right that at UIA, the motion is sinking without trace.

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  • Once again Jonathan Hoffman, like a broken record, recommends the vile rubbish and libellous poison on his hate- enciting website CifWatch - riddled with his own ignorance and the gross misrepresentation using Israeli propaganda(hasbara). This is all in defiance of the whole panoply of the highest world authorities and eminent world figures, the UN, the EU and human rights organisation from Amnesty to Israel's B'Tselem's documentation and condemnation of Israel's crimes, especially related to land-grabbing and laying facts on the ground, all illegal under international law.These deny any possibility of a Palestinian state, their self determination and their human rights.

    What the RIBA has done with its historic Motion of 19 March, democratically debated at Council, and supported by eminent architects like Charles Jencks, Ted Cullinan, Peter Ahrends, Will Alsop, Neave Brown, and other hugely respected figures, is to uphold the ethical and moral basis of architecture, which is the very context and the duty of all professional institutions and architects. As the UIA Accords state "Architects have obligations to the public to embrace the spirit and the letter of the laws governing their professional affairs and should thoroughly consider the social and environmental impact of their professional activities" also "Architects shall respect and help conserve the systems of values and the natural and cultural heritage of the community in which they are creating architecture."

    Further:Article 10.
    (1) The common objectives of all professional organizations are to establish and promote the highest standards of ethical conduct and excellence in the practice of the professions, to regulate the professional conduct of the members of the professions and to cooperate with their allied professional organizations. (2) In line with the foregoing objectives, it shall be mandatory upon a professional organization to take appropriate action on any formal complaint for unethical conduct filed against any member of its profession by a co-professional, a client, a professional organization or a government regardless of the residence of the complainant."

    The RIBA Motion is also in line with these UIA Accords on professional ethics and Resolution 13 condemning the practice of architecture that involves the breaches of human rights, international law, the Geneva Conventions and the erasure of Palestinian history and culture. This is the practice of all trade unions, mentioned by Jill Ritblat, if one understands anything about them! The RIBA has a precedent of acting like one, in its cutting of links with the South African Schools of Architecture in 1978, as part of the boycott action against apartheid South Africa. Any literate and aware professional must know in their bones that architecture is one of the most political professions -an especially as practiced, almost uniquely by Israel, from the very first colony established by Zionist settlers in Palestine in 1907. with the 'Wall and Tower" model still applied to this day in all the Israeli settlements and the construction of the illegal Separation Wall condemned by the ICJ in 2004.

    Understanding the whole issue of the political nature of Israeli architecture, so eloquently exposed by Israel architects and academics Eyal Weizman and Rafi Segal, their publications 'A Civilian Occupation' and 'Hollow Land', would be educational and cultural enlightenment of the highest order, and is heartily recommended to the Ritblats and other decriers of the RIBA's 19 March Motion. Weizman' s remarkable statement published by the AJ says it all.

    Whether wilfully not, Israeli architects are building in the occupied Palestinian Territories and illegally annexed East Jerusalem, and also within Israel on new towns and neighbourhoods to carry out the state's policy to Judaise the Negev, the Galilee, and the Arab neighbourhoods of Israel's cities- all this involves participation in human tragedy, the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes, the refusal of planning permission to build or extend, the lack of services to 'unrecgnised villages', the obscene Apartheid Wall, the thousands of house demolitions and the unbridled violence by the Israeli state, the IDF, and the terrorist settlers -all condemned in Amnesty's latest reports, and also the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. One must not forget the discriminatory laws against Palestinian citizens of Israel like the Absentee Property Law in the area of
    housing, property and development, that limit Palestinians to less that 7% of the land, the other 93% sequestrated by Israel after 1948, and no new Palestinian towns ever built, except for the 7 substandard slum townships for Negev Bedouin -compared with upto 1000 Israeli new towns and settlements.

    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. Eminent Israeli journalist Esther Zandberg, writing on this issue in Haaretz says that the IAUA's "insistence on claiming that it is an exclusively professional organization with no political agenda has led it to this point... that it does not concern itself with political issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that each of its members behaves according to his own world view, sounds hollow in the international arena. The mantra “I personally do not build in the territories” is no longer a solid defense. After all, being apolitical does not mean being neutral; rather, it is tantamount to taking a stance supporting the status quo. Since architecture is a tool through which political policy is implemented, even if not all the members of the IAUA are involved in planning and construction in the territories, the local organization representing them is now being asked to take a moral stance and use the profession as a tool for implementing it – with or without a decision by RIBA or other agencies.The RIBA’s call to expel the IAUA from the international club sparked a lively debate in the professional and public international arenas, but no such discussion took place in Israel. The subject stayed in the corridors of the IAUA, which has adopted the stance of the innocent, apolitical victim against the political, scheming, anti-Israel world. The view is that "the whole world is against us. From that point of departure, the IAUA has been waging a public relations campaign, lobbying and calling upon its members to mobilize “for a mission on Israel’s behalf” instead of looking in the mirror, as they ought to be doing."

    Instead of such enlightened action, it is sad that the Ritblats have joined the likes of Jonathan Hoffman in promoting this CiF Watch hate site, and in urging inactivity and neutrality in the face of decades of injustice and oppression, and saying this has nothing to do with the RIBA. In fact -this Motion is entirely the remit of the RIBA and especially of the UIA as a professional and moral world body of architects related to the UN, involving the humans practice of architecture for all in the community and not for the domination and preference of the oppressor against the oppressed who are under occupation. Both institutions will ultimately have to face this urgent issue of uncontrolled violence, arrests and killings of Palestinians, since after the failed peace talks Israel will be unrestrained in its brutal colonisation, as expressed by its housing minister Uri Ariel, and its accelerating settlement expansion and annexation of the West Bank.

    This Motion must be placed prominently on the General Assembly agenda for all the members to decide -rather than succumb to the bullying and intimidation of the Israel lobby. The integrity and the reputation of both these institutions are at stake.

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  • Again the chief proponent of the RIBA motion, Abe Hayeem, proves that it was based on falsehoods and that no-one at the RIBA Council meeting rebutted those falsehoods.

    Just one falsehood: he writes about the 'obscene apartheid wall'. The separation fence has nothing to do with 'apartheid'. It was built to save lives because people in Israel - both Jews and Arabs - were being murdered by suicide bombers. The value of the fence in saving lives is evident from the data: In 2002, the year before construction started, 457 Israelis were murdered; in 2009, 8 Israelis were killed. More here:


    The fence affects around 1.6% of the Occupied Territories. Israel has set up a compensation fund of around $60 million. 60,000 olive trees destroyed in the construction have been replanted. It's not nice of course. But it has saved a lot of lives.

    Abe Hayeem's designation of Cifwatch as "libellous", "hate- enciting" and a "hate site" (and me as "ignorant") is risible. It simply demonstrates that can't cope with being confronted with the truth - which should have happened at the RIBA Council meeting but clearly didn't.

    Another falsehood is the statement that Israel is "denying any possibility of a Palestinian state." Dennis Ross was at Camp David (2000) in the US negotiating team. If you go to Dennis Ross’s book “The Missing Peace” you will learn that the Palestinians turned down an offer of 91 percent of the West Bank in contiguous territory plus an additional 1 percent in land swaps (there was to be a continued Israeli security presence along 15 percent of the border with Jordan). Israel signed peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt; withdrew from Sinai, uprooting Jewish settlements; withdrew from Gaza, uprooting Jewish settlements.

    A Palestinian State was also on offer in 1948. Prime Minister Olmert made an even more generous offer.

    Israel has made proven sacrifices for peace - including most recently releasing terrorists from prison.

    As the Ritblats and many others have said, it is entirely wrong that RIBA - an institution which has no foreign policy expertise - should attempt to arbitrate in the Middle East. Particularly as the motion was based on demonstrable falsehoods and there was no-one with Middle East expertise present at the meeting to rebut these falsehoods. Further, RIBA is a Charity and Charities cannot engage in political activity which is beyond their expressed aims.

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  • It may interest Mr Hayeem to know that under international law ethnic Jews are fully entitled to establish communities on the West Bank. It is also worth pointing out that the country now known as Jordan was originally part of Mandate Palestine, but was declared forbidden to Jewish settlement. In fact, Arabs now control not less than 75% of the territory of Mandate Palestine. I should add that Israel has ignored no UN resolution that it is required to obey. OK?
    Professor Geoffrey Alderman [University of Buckingham]

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  • Once again, the two doughty defenders of Israel's illegal occupation and well documented war crimes, Hoffman and Alderman, persist in turning facts upside down and inside out.
    No -the Jewish settlers and the settlements in the Occupied Territories are definitely illegal, under the 4th Geneva Convention, which prohibits a state moving its citizens into territory that it has occupied -and under 242, prohibits the acquisition of land by wars and by force. Like the Flat-Earth Society, they cannot ever perceive in their embedded misguided views and their dream world, that all the profuse documentation, the condemnation of Israel by the UN in over 65 Resolutions that Israel has flouted, innumerable reports by the UN and EU Human Rights, the Reports by Israeli human rights organisations like B'Tselem, ICAHD, ACRI, Adalah etc etc that every country in the world recognises that its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is illegal and the annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal, and that the Separation Wall, known by any well versed person on Israel's misdemeanors as the Apartheid Wall -has unequivocally been declared illegal, including the settlements in the OPTs by the International Court of Justice in 2004, and also emphasised that it was basically a land grabbing exercise rather than for security.
    Also read B'Tselem's excellent document called "Land Grab' which says that "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"
    Almost every statement that is made above, twists the real facts. Thousands of Palestinians are imprisoned without trial are on hunger strike for over 40 days. Children are arrested and brutalised -and Israel has done everything possible to destroy any hopes for peace -as even Kerry, Cameron and numerous world leaders have stated. Even De Klerk says that Israel is becoming an apartheid state!

    Any Charity can speak out against the breaking of international law -even the RIBA. The Charity Commission specifically says so. This Motion is related to the ethical practice of architecture
    which is entirely the remit of the RIBA and UIA.

    Eminent Israeli and Palestinian historians, and the excellent work by Israeli archietcts Weizman and Segal, have set the record straight about the whole history of Israeli architecture, Zionism, using meticulously researched Israeli military archives, eye witness accounts and Britain's documentation of the Mandate while Hoffman and Alderman cling to Zionist mythology and propaganda (hasbara) issued by the Israeli embassy and Zionist historians - combined with the PR lobbies of AIPAC and BICOM that persist and being promoted in the media and to the world. But facts speak louder than sugar-coated words, and justice will be achieved sooner rather later.

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  • Alex Seymour

    Don't think it was mentioned in the article: Mr Ritblat was a governor of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel from 1991 to at least 2008 and is also a Vice President of Weizmann UK the UK fundraising arm of the Institute, Not just the disinterested ex British Land boss" you would have us believe.

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  • Abe Hayeem demonstrates yet again that his RIBA motion was based on untruths. How appropriate that it seems to have sunk without trace at UIA.

    Israel has NOT contravened the Geneva Convention. Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention states

    “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

    No court of law has ever found Israel to be in breach of this Article. The Article was written after WW2, when German and Russia forcibly transferred populations. Israel has not forced anyone to move into the West Bank, nor has it displaced local populations. In fact, the Palestinian population within the territories has increased dramatically.

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  • "Not just the disinterested ex British Land boss you would have us believe"

    Just what is Alex Seymour insinuating? That Sir John has a financial interest in the fate of this motion?

    I think it is incumbent on Mr Seymour to explain.

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