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.