We recently posted about a Guardian report on a resolution by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) which called on Union of International Architects (UIA) to suspend the membership of the Israeli Association of United Architects “until it acts to resist projects on illegally-occupied land and observes international law and accords”.
We noted that this appalling decision represents a prime example of the racist double standards at the heart of the BDS movement, as RIBA singles out Israeli architects among the 74 members of the UIA – a list which includes Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria, among others.
It appears that the resolution was based in part on the anti-Israel activism of RIBA’s past President Angela Brady, and a dishonest and highly propagandistic presentation by an extreme Jewish critic of Israel named Abe Hayeem. Hayeem is a RIBA member, chair of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine and ‘Comment is Free’ contributor.
(You can hear Hayeem in this audio, from an anti-Israel demo in London in 2003, accuse the “neo-fascist” government of Israel of engaging in a policy of “transfer”, “ethnic cleansing”, “state terrorism” and “apartheid” against Palestinians, and calling for a complete trade embargo against the state.)
However, there’s been some push back against RIBA’s resolution by Stephen Games, a RIBA member who published an op-ed at The Jewish Chronicle condemning the organization’s bigotry and hypocrisy, and calling for the removal of their Royal Charter if the resolution is not reversed.
Mr. Games has published the following open letter to the president of RIBA.
I am not a member of any interest group within the RIBA but was nonetheless disappointed to learn of Council’s decision to call for the Israeli architects’ body to be suspended from the International Union of Architects. I had no previous knowledge that this was coming up for a vote, I have not seen it reported in the RIBA, and I have not had any documentation about it, otherwise I would have protested earlier.
I object to the vote for five reasons:
1.0 The vote was biased
1.1 Council’s decision is wrong and misconceived. I completely accept that the principle of Israel’s building on land won by Israel when resisting efforts by combined Arab forces to destroy it in 1967 is contentious, politically motivated and merits questioning. It is designed to provide housing for Israelis and to redefine future borders. It will however either cease when an agreement is reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority or will continue legitimately, either within a newly drawn Israel or a newly drawn Palestinian state.
1.2 The fact that no such agreement has yet been reached reflects the fact that terms have not yet been drawn up that satisfy both sides. Council’s decision implicitly means that the RIBA blames Israel alone for the fact that an agreement has not yet been reached.
1.3 For the RIBA to blame one side for censure is inappropriate. The RIBA is not a political body, it has no special insight into the dispute, nor is there anything in its constitution that should lead it to be partisan. The RIBA’s proper role is to preserve neutrality. To do otherwise is to act outside its mandate as a royal body.
2.0 The vote was intrusive and mischievous
2.1 The decision suggests that the argument about Israeli building needs to be specially highlighted. It does not. There is already vocal opposition within Israel itself to “settlement building”. Significant numbers of IAUA members are themselves opposed to such building and do not need or wish to be removed from international platforms such as the International Union. They themselves see this as unhelpful and unfriendly action by foreign busy-bodies, designed not to ameliorate conditions but to demonise one side and one side alone in the dispute.
2.2 Votes such as this do not resolve problems. They drive the opposed parties further apart.
3.0 The vote was unfair
3.1 In voting for the Israeli Association of United Architects to be suspended, Council is taking action that it has taken against no other country. The meaning of this is that the RIBA finds Israel uniquely reprehensible in the world, or more reprehensible than any other country, in terms of human rights abuse. This flies in the face of all evidence. In the most recent (2011) Observer human rights index, Israel did not appear in even the top 20 of human rights abusers, which were listed as (in order):
1. Congo 2. Rwanda 3. Burundi 4. Algeria 5. Sierra Leone
6. Egypt 7. North Korea 8. Sudan 9. Indonesia 10. Yugoslavia
11. Pakistan 12. China 13. Libya 14. Burma 15. Iraq
16. Afghanistan 17. Iran 18. Yemen 19. Chad 20. Congo (Republic).
3.2 In Iraq, gays are rounded up by police, thrown into prison and tortured; Israel, by contrast, serves as a haven for gays in the Middle East, even mounting an annual Gay Pride march, an event unthinkable elsewhere in the region.
3.3 Israel is a country of political and religious pluralism. Freedom of expression and worship is welcomed. Israeli Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, are a full part of Israeli society, and can and do serve as parliamentarians in the Israeli Knesset. In no Arab country, and in few Muslim countries, is the presence of Israelis or Jews even tolerated.
3.4 Israel’s architectural body is itself made up of Israeli Arabs as well as others. Nowhere does such reciprocity exist in Arab or Muslim countries.
3.5 If the vote against Israel is to stand, it must logically be followed by similar calls for architects in countries beyond the Middle East to be banned.
4.0 The vote was reductive
4.1 If Council wishes to support the aspirations of the Palestinians, it has an obligation not to do so at Israel’s expense. Politics should not be a zero-sum game: the RIBA should recognise that both Israelis and Palestinians deserve to end up with better outcomes. In Council’s vote, however, support for Palestinians was expressed in language defined entirely by vitriolic negativity towards Israel. This is utterly inappropriate and gives rise to reasonable speculation that the vote was as much about hostility to Israel as about support for Palestinians.
4.2 As the aftermath of the Arab springs has shown, Middle Eastern politics is far more complex than the simplistic “Palestinians-good/Israel-bad” formula that supporters of the vote in Council represented. The reductivism that Council has voted for is shameful in its effort to resort to pre-Arab Spring blindness about long-standing Middle East rivalries and hostilities, of which hatred of Israel is neither the biggest nor the most entrenched.
4.3 If Council truly wished to have a say only about the Middle East, it should be supporting all people in the region who are truly suffering victimisation and oppression. If the vote in Council is allowed to stand, it must therefore be followed by a huge programme of similar and more appropriate calls for suspension—especially against Egypt, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran—and especially against other countries whose treatment of Palestinians is much more reprehensible than that of Israel, but whose actions are deliberately ignored and veiled by obsessive opponents of Israel who wish only to use the Palestinian cause to damage Israel.
5.0 The vote disgraces the RIBA
5.1 For the reasons given, by allowing the vote against Israel to stand, the RIBA risks emerging not as a body that supports Palestinians but as a body with an in-built and unprincipled prejudice against Israel and legitimate Jewish aspiration.
5.2 For more than a thousand years, the Christian Church attempted to eradicate Judaism, either by mass killing or mass conversion. Were it the case that the majority of Council members came from Christian backgrounds, some observers might conclude that the vote continued a long-standing cultural prejudice against Jews within our society in general and within the RIBA in particular.
5.2 The campaign to boycott Israel is also bound up with a much more insidious pan-Arab and pan-Muslim campaign to delegitimise Israel and eradicate it as a state. Thus, a millennium of opposition to Jews being Jews could be seen to be joining forces with a century-long campaign to prevent Israel being Israel.
5.3 In voting for Israel’s suspension, the RIBA could be seen as siding with the most vicious campaigners against not just boycott and divestment but against Israel’s legitimacy and its survival as a state.
No one could want to belong to a body that can be characterised as anti-semitic, nor is it appropriate that an institutionally anti-semitic body should retain its royal charter.
In view of the above, I urge the RIBA to reverse its decision as soon as possible. If it does not, there will inevitably be a campaign calling for the removal of the royal charter, and this will involve much unnecessary expenditure of time and effort all round.
I am copying this letter to the press.
To assist Mr. Games and others in the UK who oppose the boycott, please sign this petition , and (per the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s approach) consider contacting the president of the Union of International Architects (UIA), Prof. Albert Dubler, and ask that the group reject RIBA’s endorsement of a policy of racist exclusion targeting Israelis.