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RIBA overturns controversial Israel motion

by Richard Waite and Laura Mark          4 December 2014                 Architects' Journal

Jerusalem, Israel. Image by AcrollMark       

The RIBA’s resolution to suspend the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) has been overturned by the institute’s council today

Passed in March, the controversial resolution demanded the International Union of Architects (UIA) censure the IAUA over illegal settlement building in the occupied territories.The contentious motion was brought by former president Angela Brady and carried by 23 votes to 16 - with 10 abstentions.

However the resolution split the profession and has now, after a council vote, been shelved.

According to the institute, the motion calling for the IAUA’s suspension, was beyond ‘the powers of [RIBA] council’ and ‘was not in furtherance of the chairtable objects of the RIBA and should not have been placed before RIBA Council’.

The news comes just a month after an RIBA taskforce led by Sumita Sinha and Peter Oborn – RIBA’s vice-president of international – travelled to the region and held talks with both the IAUA and the Association of Architects in Palestine.

Delivering his findings from the taskforce’s trip, Oborn said: ‘The RIBA motion was beyond the powers of council. It should not have come before the members of council.’

‘This is not the forum for these issues.’

Earlier today (4 December) council voted in support of the taskforce’s report and its recommendations - one of which included revoking the original motion.

RIBA president Stephen Hodder said: ‘I’m keen that architects engage positively with this issue. RIBA Council has an important role to play in engaging with difficult and controversial issues. However it is a widely held view that the resolution passed in March concerning the IAUA did not make a constructive contribution to the current situation.

‘For the Institute to have engaged in this issue in a confrontational way - by seeking suspension of the Israeli Association of United Architects from the UIA - was wrong. These recommendations supersede the previous council resolution of 19 March 2014 and as a result that policy is now rescinded.’

He added: ‘We got it wrong’

Hodder admitted the fallout had damaged the RIBA’s reputation and ‘had a financial impact’ on the institution, but wouldn’t expand on how much it had cost.

What council voted on:

RIBA council endorses the report of the group and adopts the recommendations of the report including the proposals for further work and becoming a signatory to be UN Global Compact and the International Ethics Coalition. These recommendations include replacing previous policy of 19 March and that policy is rescinded.


Readers' comments (35)

  • Good decision by the RIBA president. Now the RIBA can concentrate on it's objectives:
    "...the general advancement of Civil Architecture, and for promoting and facilitating the acquirement of the knowledge of the various arts and sciences connected therewith..."

  • .... and Israel's architects can carry on their work of expanding illegal Jewish only settlements, at the expense of the Palestinian people, without international sanction.

  • This just proves how weak and ineffective the RIBA's influence is, though the vote clearly had backing from within, they were forced to change their opinion due to outside influence (and most likely outside funding threats). The RIBA is meant to stand up for British architecture and its values and to uphold a standard of Ethics, and promoting them worldwide is most definitely a valuable thing to do. They have every right to express their disproval of another country Architecture body if deemed to be acting in an unethical way. Whether that is in Israel or any other country acting unethically. I wouldn’t want the RIBA to recognise any institute that agrees to build on disputed territories.

  • In response to Janet Green's sour grapes, Israel provides free medical health care to Arab nationals and continues to find ways for peaceful coexistence, whilst the Palestinian authorities are ruled by extremist groupings who are blind to any peaceful advancement let alone architecture.

  • Robert Erskine - my comment refers to the expansion of illegal Jewish only settlements but yours doesn't (?).

  • Janet Green - seconded on both comments.

    RIBA shoots itself in both feet - again

  • Finally, common sense has prevailed over this lengthy / costly and ludicrous campaign.
    Now that this is over, I do hope that RIBA can now focus on its members and fight for further changes in the planning system that is vital for the future of architecture in the UK.

    For those people who are disappointed about this decision, if you do your research I am sure you will find a more appropriate platform for whatever agenda you have. 
    Boycotting does not promote dialogue between sides (which is badly needed in this current situation) it only creates further division and this is not good for peace or a stable future. 

  • Lior Brosh - seeing some of your past comments, I find it hard to see how you don't have an agenda of your own.

  • Frirish, 
    My agenda is very clear, to keep RIBA focusing on its members and promote British Architecture. 
    You will find hard to believe but this is RIBA’s agenda as well. 

  • This must be the lowest depths that the RIBA has sunk - an obsequious capitulation to the Israel lobby both outside and within the RIBA, and to donor pressure -even after being intimidated, threatened and subjected to boycotts applied to its financial detriment.
    This was precisely a professional and ethical issue that could be undertaken by an institution, even within its charitable status, according to UIA Resolutions and Articles, and by a clear democratic Council decision. 

    This has been subverted by the International Committee with its ludicrous visit and report, and then saying it was joining the UN Global Compact and the International Ethics Coalition.This must be the most farcical of ironies, as it has just rescinded precisely the Resolution that would have conformed to ethical practice -not given support to Israeli architects who are practicing the architecture of occupation, violence and dispossession. The concern seems to have been more for the feelings of the oppressors than the Palestinians -whose architects association had opposed the actions of the RIBA in supporting the Israeli standpoint.

    No, this is what the RIBA has got miserably wrong, and has brought the whole Institute into disrepute. They got it right in 1977, when they took the courageous action in breaking its links with the South African schools of architecture as part of the anti-apartheid boycott call.

  • I am very pleased that the RIBA Council came to this conclusion today. 

    The issues associated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are very important indeed and need to be discuss and debated with a view to forging a true and equitable peace for all parties, based on mutual understanding and mutual respect - but the RIBA is not the correct forum for such a debate. It was confirmed as such, being outside the RIBA's remit, and the RIBA have correctly regularised the matter.

    For our Institute to seek the exclusion of another country's professional body would have been wholly wrong and counter productive to this end. It would have been negative, and silence any opportunity for engagement and exchange.

    It is not necessary to drag up all the arguments again here, but legal opinion confirmed the March motion on Israel as 'discriminatory'. How could that remain on RIBA policy?

    What has not been covered sufficiently in the press so far was the excellent report presented by Peter Oborn and his working group, looking at how the RIBA can contribute in a positive manner to help victims of natural disasters and civil conflict in the UK and around the work. As building professionals we have a huge amount to contribute in a positive way.

  • Well said Dan

  • Dan Leon -the whole point is that the exclusion was for a reason -that the Israeli Association of United Architects was not upholding its responsibilities in censuring its members for its breaches of international law, and its participation in what are considered as war crimes under the Geneva Conventions. The UIA specifically demands this censure of member countries whose architects participate in grave misconduct -as this is, since it has been well documented as an architecture of violence, occupation, dispossession and legalised discrimination, based on racist and apartheid principles.

    Again, the UIA Articles require any country taking another country to task for grave misconduct, and has specific Resolutions condemning such projects. 

    Oborn's report is manipulated to protect the IAUA, and as we have seen over several decades, 'constructive dialogue' in the case of Israel has led nowhere -except to more settlements, land grabs, creating high security prisons and bantustan enclaves for the Palestinians -which get worse every day.
    Today' s debacle at the RIBA Council does exactly that -it will not change the situation in Israel/Palestine one iota. It will only maintain the unacceptable status quo.

    Your measured tones deceive no-one. We must listen to the voice of Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian Architects' Association who have asked for sanctions to be taken, and in this case, the 19 March RIBA Resolution was the democratic decision by Council that has now been subverted by a strong and influential lobby, harming the RIBA's professional reputation and responsibility.The best contribution to altering the dire situation would have been to carry through that Resolution to the UIA.

  • The right decision. The motion was based on falsehoods and no-one had a chance to rebut them:

    Just a shame that the misguided March vote cost RIBA £100,000 in lost bookings and donations.....

  • Dearie me! Thank God I don't belong and have never belonged to such a lilly livered bunch of self promoting......
    Retired architect(RIAS).

  • Janet Green - no other than the Palestinian Authority declared that in a future state of Palestine, there will be no Jews, it will be 'Jew-free'. we can argue for hours about where is the only place in the region where minorities are not persecuted, the only place where the Christian population is actually growing rather than reducing sharply, the only place where you are free to follow whatever your faith, political conviction or sexual orientation, The point is - RIBA is not the platform.

  • Abe Hayeem - No, the lowest depth that the RIBA has sunk to was when it succumbed to your group's lobbying and passed that original motion.
    It has now risen back from the depths, and has hopefully turned its back on your anti Israel (and not pro anything) obsession.
    Hopefully you may find comfort in pursuing a new obsession - Architecture.

  • Firstly, it is a disgrace to the RIBA that a resolution that was passed through a democratic RIBA vote was overturned. 

    It seems incredulous to me that the RIBA would not think it appropriate to adopt a strong stance towards Israel given the nation's unashamed and flagrant use of the built environment as a central tool to flout international law and inflict human rights abuses. I have spent time in the region and witnessed first hand the indignities of life under occupation. The built environment is critical to the Israeli State's continued occupation of the West Bank. 

    Secondly, given Britain's history in the region and its pivotal role in shaping the present day boundaries and demographics of the Middle East, it would appear pertinent that the RIBA take a strong, reasoned stance, which indeed it seemed to move towards when the motion went to a democratic vote. That additionally UKTI would think it appropriate to encourage British architects to engage in work in Israel beggars belief.

    It is clear that the Israeli lobby has greater sway with the RIBA than its members. Certainly it is very active as one can see simply by browsing the comments that follow any coverage of this issue within AJ - more comments than I have seen posteed on the AJ for some time!

    The overturning of this motion paints a sorry picture for the future of the RIBA as a strong, consolidated representative voice of its members. It seems to herald an RIBA that is a commercial body concerned with maintaining commercial interests regardless of wider-reaching more fundamental issues.

  • Brendan M - As I was browsing the comments on this issue I noticed your name coming up. Can we safely assume that you are therefore a part of the nefarious 'Israel Lobby' as well.

    The fact that it was RIBA members that worked actively to overturn this decision clearly negates your proposition that it is the 'Israel Lobby' that holds a greater sway than its members. In fact, if members were given more than a days notice that this democratic vote to boycott Israel was going to happen im sure it never wouldve seen the light of day

    British involvement in the Middle East bears no relevance on the remit of a paid for members organisation such as the RIBA. Throughout the ages Britain has invaded 90% of countries worldwide just to highlight how ridiculous that idea is.

    Ive spent time in the region to and while Israel is not perfect by any means, its not the demon you are trying to make it out to be.

    Better luck next time B

  • Well, Amos; I wonder if "...the general advancement of Civil Architecture, and for promoting and facilitating the acquirement of the knowledge of the various arts and sciences connected therewith..." doesn't exclude from housing as well. We'll be reduced to designing Cathedrals, Churches, Castles, Palaces, Town Halls, Prisons, Schools, Hospitals and Art Galleries again soon. Those were the days.

  • In response to Brendan M and Abe
    How come when there is a vote against Israel it is ‘democratic vote’ but when the vote is FOR Israel suddenly it becomes anti-democratic? 
    RIBA motion was followed by one sided presentation with no one questioned the content of this presentation, how come this is democracy when the voters were not presented by the two sides?

    I agree with you that this is disgrace to RIBA…for letting some individuals to use and abuse RIBA stage and ‘royal’ title for their own personal hatred toward Israel. 

  • The last time I commented on this issue I was accused of anti-semitism and both my and the related comments were deleted, so I'll try not to cause offence this time.
    Looking at the readers' comments above there might just be only one person who's likely subject to the Israeli law of return but who isn't enthusiastically crowing over the RIBA's climb down.
    In British politics there's there's the well established (if somewhat fragile) principle of everyone declaring their interest in a subject of debate, and that's where comment on this issue runs the risk of being fraught with serious accusations of racism. 
    My concern is that some people have a very direct interest in the unchallenged progress of a campaign of dispossession, landscape destruction and wholesale urbanisation that's ably assisted by the input of a considerable number of architects. 
    Ethnic cleansing might even be a reasonable description as one factor in this colossal mess.
    For anyone to be criticising the right of the RIBA to be concerned about this is, on the face of it, astonishing, but - although I presume that the majority of the commentators are architects, their integrity is open to question - and at least one of them has fallen into the trap, in his practice information, of describing himself as a member of the ARB. Granted that he's far from alone in exaggerating his status in this way (it would be an awfully long board), but to me it symbolises people whose self interest gets in the way of fact - and sometimes morality, as well as integrity
    I've got an old postcard, a photo of the hills of Gilead west of Ajlun - and maybe to an urbanite it just looks like a picturesque but empty landscape.
    In fact it isn't empty at all, and though these hills are in 'unoccupied' Jordan, I think that much of the land being buried under the massive urbanisation in question was once just as fine.
    The destruction is to the eternal shame - and disgrace - of all the architects involved.

    must in a all the caused upset, was

  • To its shame the RIBA has now decided to turn a blind eye to the 'professional' activities of Israel's architects who actively support and profit from the military occupation and the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the demolition of Palestinian homes, the theft of Palestinian land and the escalating construction of colonial settlements in the occupied West Bank and illegally annexed East Jerusalem. Hide as it will be behind procedure and what may or may not be within the remit of the RIBA it is clear that the institute has capitulated to the Zionist lobby. Business as usual. Shame.

  • And the RIBA has equally capitulated to the 'Chinese Lobby,' with business as usual continuing there despite the 24 hour protest vigil that has been taking place directly outside the building for the past 13 years. Shame. Right John?

  • Yes Antony and here we go with the 'what about Syria?' So why not take a motion to censure Chinese architects to the council? I have no doubt there will be lots of support however this motion is about unethical behaviour of Israel's architects and their support for the occupation.

  • Yesterday was a black day for the RIBA and for a President who has failed to uphold the spirit of the RIBA Code of Conduct.

    Council voted that :-
    • “The resolution of 19th March was beyond its powers” (to make judgment on) “the justifiability of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and that this has
    • no real connection with ‘the advancement of architecture”.

    This despite the fact that when Professor Hans Haelein, Gail Waldman and I met with the President on 5th November, he agreed that if any architect in the UK behaved as our Israel colleagues do, in aiding and abetting development on stolen land, they would be acting in contravention of the RIBA Code and would be disciplined.

    Principle 3 of the RIBA Code of Professional Conduct, headed Relationships reads:-

    “Members should respect the beliefs and opinions of other peoples, recognize social diversity and treat everyone fairly.

    3.1. They should also have a proper concern and due regard for the effects that their work may have on its users and the local community.”

    Further, in nullifying the March resolution, the RIBA is ignoring and setting aside as of no account, the clearly expressed views of our Palestinian colleagues, as expressed in writing to the President in letters of 27th May and 11th November 2014.

    In the latter of these 2 letters, contrary to what Council were told, they write with regard to the visit by 2 representatives of the International committee, one of whom is no longer a Council member:-

    “We regret the fact that we were not consulted, or informed of the aims, objectives and schedule of this visit of the two RIBA delegates. We feel that the visit was planned as a tool to divert the RIBA motion and strip it of its spirit and goals. The statements made on the website of RIBA, the lack of clarity in the aim and objectives of the visit, as well as the continuous engagement of RIBA with IAUA indicate that there is no intention to implement the 19th of March resolution or to build on it. Instead, it seems like the democratically debated resolution is being sidelined in favor of alternative agendas.”

  • Here we go with the BDS lobby brushing off all criticism of any human rights abusers that aren't Israel, despite the protest against China being right outside their own front door 24 hours a day for 13 years!

    Why not take a motion to censure China? Ill tell you why not. The same reason the RIBA doesnt boycott, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and yes even North Korea. The point, which the BDS lobby continues to miss, is that the RIBA should not be engaging in the boycott of any country. Its wrong, counter productive and beyond the remit of the RIBA on all levels

  • Sorry Kate, maybe if you pursue some real human rights abusers youll have a bit more luck!

  • Yes Kate, I read that letter from the Palestinian association - it later develops into a rant, accusing Israel of everything (they clearly bear no responsibility - the line that the pro Palestinian lobby promotes ' infantilising 'your Palestinian colleagues';), and it ends with nothing short of a threat that if RIBA does not follow their line, they will....well guess what? boycott it! quite ironic really.

  • Kate, 
    Israel offered the Palestinians their land back many times and they refused every peace deal that was offered to them (by Rabin, Peres, Ehud Barak and Olmert) 
    Their Leaders do not fight for freedom, they are fighting against it and that is why their people are stuck in a limbo land with an uncertain future. 

    All you write is empty comments with zero knowledge... 

  • All the above is a talking shop - essentially RIBA had taken the side of say for example Bethlehem and then later on, RIBA found that RIBA's own interests took precedence - nothing really to do with Architecture at all - at all

  • It seems that some readers, Janif Josef for example, cannot endure that the voice of Palestinians should be heard at all. I wonder how he obtained the text of a letter, addressed to the RIBA President, which has only been sellectively quoted in the press? So that other readers may judge whether this letter "develops into a rant" I think they should be able to read it for themselves. here it is:-

    Mr. Stephen Hodder
    Royal Institute of British Architects 
    66 Portland Place
    W1B 1AD

    11 November 2014

    Subject: RIBA Delegation visit to Palestine 

    Dear Mr. Hodder, 
    We in the Engineering Association (EA) and Association of Architects in Palestine (AAP) are extremely concerned over the announcement on the RIBA’s website about its recent delegation to Palestine. We believe that the visit arranged by some RIBA members reflects a clear and deliberate act of diversion from the original RIBA motion adopted on the 19th March 2014 which calls for the suspension of Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) from UIA.
    We regret the fact that we were not consulted, or informed of the aims, objectives and schedule of this visit of the two RIBA delegates. We feel that the visit was planned as a tool to divert the RIBA motion and strip it of its spirit and goals. The statements made on the website of RIBA, the lack of clarity in the aim and objectives of the visit, as well as the continuous engagement of RIBA with IAUA indicate that there is no intention to implement the 19th of March resolution or to build on it. Instead, it seems like the democratically debated resolution is being sidelined in favor of alternative agendas.
    Instead of clarifying that the IAUA is practicing racism and discrimination through not censuring the illegal activities of its members in building in the occupied territories, RIBA in this action is presenting both sides as equal parties. This is totally unacceptable to us and against the spirit of the BDS call by Palestinian civil society. It is accepting and appearing to condone a group of architects involved with grave misconduct, breaches of international law and participating in war crimes and consolidating ethnic cleansing. This is entirely in breach of UIA Resolutions and Articles.

    We would like to state clearly that our resistance to the Israeli occupation is not a ‘civil conflict’ as you wrongly put it; it is a longstanding, brutal military occupation, colonization and apartheid against a captive and controlled and defenseless population; and this is what we clarified to the delegation. The architects of the IAUA are practicing within this situation without protest or comment, and should be suspended from the UIA, not engaged with by the RIBA! 
    Moreover, The latest brutal attack involving massive destruction in Gaza, the horrendous upheavals in Jerusalem and the West Bank and the destruction of heritage sites in Nablus & Hebron in 2002 are not ‘natural disasters’; they are man-made ones, and the massacres in Gaza are war crimes, including the never-ending illegal settlement land grabs. Settlements established in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are clear violations of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention[vi] and the Hague Convention of 1907[vii]. All these relate to the 19 March Resolution, which is about the unacceptable professional practice of architecture. We must remind you again that Israelis and Palestinians are not equal stakeholders in this issue. 
    We urge that our letters to both you and Mr. Albert Dubler, dated May 27th, 2014 signed by 350 Palestinians are adhered to. The Engineers Association (EA) and the Association of Architects in Palestine (AAP) back the Resolution for suspension of the Israeli Architects’ Association (IAUA) from the UIA and hope that this will be pursued firmly by the RIBA, as will the (EA) and (AAP) at any future UIA meetings they attend. 
    We would like to state clearly that any future cooperation between us depends on RIBA’s position regarding this issue. The 19th of March Resolution still holds and must be pursued, and we would like to know what your line of action is in order to bring it to fruition.

    Engineering Association Association of Jerusalem Center Architects in Palestine

    c/c: Mr. Esa Mohamed, President of the International Union of Architects
    c/c: Ms Deniz Incedayi, Vice-president Region II

  • An architects' body with no position on professional ethics. Meanwhile the ethnic cleansing continues unabated. Congradulations RIBA.

  • All the pro-Israel lobby statements above- there are many voices upholding the ethical ideals of architecture. Not only are there many RIBA members and members of Council who supported the suspension motion, and indeed many of the great names in architecture, there are many Israelis who oppose the illegal practices of the architecture of violence, dispossession and apartheid discrimination endemic in Israeli architecture, and the whole basis of the state. 

    In fact you should read the works of Eyal Weizman, and see his latest film -The Architecture of Violence -that was recently shown around the world. 

    The group called Constructive Dialogue, led by Dan Leon (who threatened to resign from the RIBA but who now curiously has become a Council member) were able to email every Council member before the vote to try and turn them against the very valid and essential Motion, and were subsequently given exclusive access, together with Israeli architects, to meet with the RIBA executive. Subsequently, the RIBA and UIA were bombarded by a barrage of thousands of emails from all over world, including threats and intimidation to the proposers of the Motion, and the Jewish Chronicle accused the RIBA of being 'officially ant-Semitic', and encouraged its readers to boycott the RIBA by cancelling bar-mitvah bookings. 

    The campaign to cancel the motion was relentless -and though it appears that the RIBA has succumbed to the lobbying, it has brought the profession into disrepute by refusing to uphold the ethical and professional standards and codes of the RIBA and UIA, in a most clear cut breach of international law and human rights by members of a country's professional institute (IAUA) which has done nothing to censure or stop its members' illegal practices. By the RIBA reversing the motion of such a clear cut and well documented case, it is condoning the ongoing violence of Israeli architecture in the OPTs and within Israel with the slow ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the Negev and the Judaisation of the Galilee and Israel's cities.