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RIBA sets up global ethics group following Israel controversy


The RIBA has announced a new working group to look at how the institute tackles problems facing overseas communities following the controversy surrounding its Israel motion

Headed up by RIBA’s vice president of international relations, Peter Oborn, the new International Committee Working Group will ‘consider the institute’s role in engaging with communities facing civil conflict and natural disaster’.

The RIBA ran into heavy criticism over its handling of a council motion calling on the International Union of Architects (UIA) to censure the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) for failing to punish architects building settlements on occupied land.

Earlier this month RIBA Honorary Fellow Jill Ritblat, the wife of former British Land chairman John Ritblat, joined a chorus of critics who claimed the institute should ‘stay out of politics’.

In an open letter to RIBA president Stephen Hodder she said the institute should not be an ‘arbiter of either morality or opinion on race, creed or colour, or an engine for political manipulation or bias.’

Meanwhile, speaking after yesterday’s RIBA council meeting, Hodder said the Israeli motion, originally tabled by past-president Angela Brady, had been ‘fulfilled’.

‘[The motion] asked for a letter to be sent to the UIA, calling for the proposal to be considered in Durban. We did that, but they have confirmed they will not be discussing it’, he said.

He added: ‘The UIA response that the call is outside their ‘political scope’ brings the matter to a close. The RIBA will not be commenting further on the matter, therefore any members who share their personal views will not be doing so on behalf of the Institute.

While past-president Angela Brady said the working group is just a start, and she would like to see ‘more positive action and engagement’.

She added: ‘We should stand up for these ethical issues. Architects should take responsibility’.

An open letter to RIBA President Stephen Hodder from council member George Oldham

Dear Stephen,

Whilst I welcome your initiative in setting up an ethics working party - this clearly being in the spirit of our Charter - I trust that the opportunity to focus on the implementation of UIA Resolution 13 condemning the settlements will be grasped both as symbolic of what the working party might achieve and as a priority, given that the assaults on the indigenous Palestinian population are intensifying as is clear from the latest outrage; this week’s murderous attack by the Israeli army on Ramallah.

If the opportunity to implement the RIBA motion is not taken, the setting up of the new group will be widely condemned as a diversionary tactic designed solely to totally negate the motion  brought by Angela Brady and me, on the flimsiest and utterly unacceptable pretext that the UIA misleadingly claims that the RIBA demand is beyond the their remit, an extraordinary claim in the light of their earlier suspension of South Africa for its apartheid policies.  It is particularly ironic that the UIA should be attempting to prevent discussion of this critical issue in its congress in South Africa of all places and at a time when Archbishop Tutu is highlighting the apartheid policies of the Israeli state.

Should the RIBA refuse to implement the will of its own Council, it will be seen as great, and as contradictory an abrogation of its moral standing as the continuing refusal by the UIA to implement its own Resolution 13 by any appropriate sanction on the Israeli Institute of Architects.

There are outrages occurring all over the world, some of which might be appropriately considered by your new working group, but one stands out, because in this particular case, it is architects of a fellow member institute of the International Institute to which we belong who are a party to war crimes; crimes to which we can no longer turn a blind eye.

How many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see ?
The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yours sincerely,

George Oldham 

Previous story (AJ 12.06.14)

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 (2)

  • Stephen Hodder and Peter Oborn have my full support in setting up this working group to help establish a formal set of guidelines for the Institute.

    However it is vital that the workings, decisions and outputs from the group are fully transparent, and agreed by Council prior to being formalised. Too much seems to go on behind closed doors, and this is an area which could impact all members.

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  • Please note: This working group, whatever it turns out to be, is no substitute to the RIBA's firm and democratic 19 March Council decision to support the suspension of the Israeli Association of United Architects from the UIA. Stephen Hodder has always says that the decision was now RIBA policy and still stands, yet he now mistakenly says that that by setting up such a group, the Motion is 'fulfilled'. He also cites that by sending the decision letter to the UIA, and receiving a reply that it is 'beyond the UIA' s political scope' that it relieves him of the responsibility of pursuing this Motion to be tabled at the UIA.
    This is certainly within the scope of the UIA, as a similar issue over South Africa in its apartheid days was made by the UIA, which expelled SA as a member. The RIBA too has a similar precedent in 1978, when it cut its links with South African schools of architecture as part of the boycott. In any case,
    this is an issue of the clear breaches of Resolution 13 by the IAUA since 2005, which condemns projects that are against the Geneva Conventions (considered as war crimes) and which involve ethnic cleansing and erasure of another people's culture. The building of illegal settlements since 1967 on expropriated Palestinian land, the whole enterprise of the architecture of occupation that continues with accelerated frenzy even during the recent peace talks, all involve Israeli architects -in a unique collaboration with the state and military policy. The evidence has been profusely documented, and the policies condemned worldwide. Further this is an issue of professional ethics and the breaches of the UIA's ethical Accords -again clearly documented.
    Stephen Hodder will still need to pursue this historic decision by Council at the UIA in Durban is he wishes the RIBA to retain its integrity as a truly professional Institute concerned with morality and justice.

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