BDS

Tell the International Assoc. of Architects to reject RIBA’s racist boycott of Israelis


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.

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Abe Hayeem (2003)

(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 Gamesa 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.  

@stephengames

Stephen Games

Mr. Games has published the following open letter to the president of RIBA.

Dear President,

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.

Conclusion

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.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Games

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. 

uia@uia-architectes.org

 

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19 replies »

    • Anti-semitism in the UK is nothing new. When people are not happy in their own lives, they look to point the finger at someone else. I’m old enough to remember when Jordan throughout thousands of Palestinian so-called refugees, and look how Saudi Arabia treats her foreign workers. Israel is a paradise for Arab/Israeli citizens by comparison to many, many countries.

  1. What an excellent, calm, thoughtful letter from Mr Games. He avoids the emotive and hyperbolic language so many on both sides of this issue slip into – an example to us all.

    His one mis-step, in my humble opinion, is in 5.2, when he decides to mention a 1,000 year campaign by the Catholic Church to eradicate Judaism and to suggest that this may be the root of RIBA’s actions. Unless it is the case that a significant proportion of the RIBA executive are Catholics, I think this is mistaken.

    1. It is easy for RIBA to latch onto this, and deny it (pointing out that the motion was proposed by a Jew – the “some of our best architects are Jewish” argument) thus giving them an excuse to dismiss all the rest of his arguments.

    2. The Catholic Church has in recent years (at least formally) recanted its most blatantly antisemitic tendencies and has apologised for some of the worst excesses of the past. As above, therefore, it is easy to portray this as the rantings of some anti-Catholic living in the past rather than of a sensible and measured person.

    3. It is not just the Catholic Church that has sought the destruction of the Jews. There are so many to choose from that to single them out is jarring in an otherwise very even-handed and moderate letter.

    • Labenal in his letter he refers to the “Christian Church” but you on more than one occasion translate this to mean the “Catholic Church”, is there a reason for this?

      I am currently in a city that is well known for its ties and connections to Roman Catholicism, and indeed early Christian history, but even here they would agree that Christianity is a much larger community than just the Roman Catholic Church.

      • Only the Catholic Church stretches back that far in history. Either he meant the catholic church or his accusation is groundless for the mere reason that he’s totally ignorant of history.

        • Only the Catholic Church …
          Simply wrong. Reproaching others of ignorance, but delivering a proof of his own.

        • Wayne before you put your foot in your mouth again I suggest you look up, for example, the history of the Greek Orthodox Church or Celtic Christianity. You will find that both of these, and others, have long histories.

          When you use the term “Catholic Church” which one do you mean?
          I am sure you are aware that there is more than one “Catholic Church”, Roman and Anglo are two of the varieties that spring to mind.

          • The Greek Orthodox church is officially known as the Orthodox Catholic Church. Is there some part of of the word Catholic that you don’t understand?

            Yes I am indeed aware that there is more than one Catholic Church.

            Celtic Christianity is not 1,000 years old. It is several hundreds years younger than Catholic traditions/churches.

            • The Eastern Orthodox Church is officially called Orthodox Catholic Church, but in general Catholic Church signifies Latin Catholic Church (usually called Roman Catholic church) in distinction from the Orthodox. When used by the Latin Catholic Church it means the whole of the Christian churches who are in union with the Latin Catholic Church.
              The Greek orthodox church is officially called Church of Greece
              Catholicos is a title used in autocephal Eastern Christian churches like the Assyrian Church.
              In a very specific, stritly limited sense most Christian churches, even the Protestant ones, might be called catholic or call themselves catholic who believe in Jesus. In this case Catholic and Christian are synonyms which makes them useless for history, analysis, defnitions and descriptions. In a broader sense the Latin Catholic Church and the Churches in union with the Roman See, the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Oriental Orthodox churches and most of the Protestant churches, even the Anglican Church, form the Nicene Christianity, trinitarism and so on, representing the whole, the orthodox and the catholic. All others are defined as heresies, like Arianism, Nestoriamism, Monarchianism etc.
              Therefore the general use of Catholic Church as synonym for the Roman See is quite functional as identity marker.

              Just for information, as you are a newcomer to the Christian world.

            • “Celtic Christianity is not 1,000 years old. It is several hundreds years younger than Catholic traditions/churches.”

              Wayne wrong again, at least you are consistent.
              So tell me Wayne with your knowledge of Christianity in Britain why was Augustine of Canterbury sent by Pope Gregory to Britain?
              And when? (A clue Wayne it was more than a 1,000 years ago)
              Use “Wikipedia” if you have to, it is obviously the source of your limited knowledge.

              Yes, Wayne, I understand the meaning of the word “Catholic” but do you?

    • There we go again. Antisemites under the bed. Keep it up. Makes a change to shoot yourself in the foot rather than a Palestinian footballer!

      • LOL!!!! I made no comment on Israel, Jewish people, the I/P conflict or anything else. If someone says dinner is ready no doubt you have the antisemite response ready. You are a freaking mental midget. .

  2. Yes,racism,pure and simple.
    How else to explain the attention Israel receives while countries with genuinely appalling records receive no attention at all.
    Racist scum.

    • I see. You’re saying “Others can get away with human rights abuses, why can’t we? ‘Snot fair!!”

  3. Abe Hayeem exposed as a liar.

    http://jewishrefugees.blogspot.com/2009/10/dark-side-of-abe-hayeem-iraqi-jew.html
    The dark side of Abe Hayeem, Iraqi Jew
    OCTOBER 14, 2009

    Over at The Guardian, Abe Hayeem, an architect and member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, has been busy taking the glitz off the celebrations for Tel Aviv’s hundreth anniversary by rewriting its history as a dark tale of colonialism and conquest.

    He disingenuously omits a key reason for the founding and growth of Tel Aviv: Jews wished to escape the predominantly Arab city of Jaffa. Nowhere does he refer to the Jaffa Riots, when an Arab mob killed dozens of Jaffa’s Jewish residents. Thereafter many Jews left Jaffa for Tel Aviv.

    The irony that Abe Hayeem comes from a family of Iraq Jews, themselves, ‘ethnically cleansed’ from their homeland, has not escaped commenters:
    Cynosarge:

    Perhaps next week you will write an article condemning the mistreatment and expropriation of the Jews of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt ….

    And perhaps pigs might fly.

    If the Arab regimes had not driven out their Jewish populations, then there might not have been the same need for Israel to house them all.

    And Tom Wonacott comments:

    Having noted that you are a Jew from Iraq which numbered in 1948 about 120,000, would you care to discuss why the Arabs in Iraq (and everywhere else in the Middle East) chose to persecute, harass and evict the Jews? Today, fewer than 100 Jews remain in Iraq. What had the Jews in Iraq done to deserve being run off from their homes, and their possessions confiscated? Did any Arab take the time to ask these Jews even if they were Zionist? I know that this is off topic to a “peace activist” interested in the “occupation”, but you are the one discussing the “dark secrets” of Tel Aviv. What about the dark secrets of the Arab world? How about your own family? Certainly, your family history would be interesting on this subject. The Arabs held all Jews at “gunpoint” to discourage the creation of a Jewish state as the quotes below so obviously show. Maybe as a non Zionist(?) Jew, you feel that the Arabs had every right to blame all Jews for the creation of Israel?:

    November 24, 1947 In a key address to the Political Committee of the U.N. General Assembly on the morning of November 24, 1947, just five days before that body voted on the partician plan for Palestine, Heykal Pasha, an Egyptian delegate, made the following statement: The United Nations … should not lose sight of the fact that the proposed solution might endanger a million Jews living in the Moslem countries. … If the United Nations decided to partition Palestine they might be responsible for very grave disorders and for the massacre of a large number of Jews.

    November 24, 1947 In an afternoon session of the Political Committee of the U.N. General Assembly on November 24, 1947, the Palestinian delegate to the UN, Jamal Husseini, representing the Arab Higher Committee of Palestine to the UN General Assembly, made the following threat:

    “It should be remembered that there were as many Jews in the Arab world as there are in Palestine whose positions might become very precarious. November 28, 1947 Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fadil Jamali, at the 126th Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly stated: “Not only the uprising of the Arabs in Palestine is to be expected but the masses in the Arab world cannot be restrained. The Arab-Jewish relationship in the Arab world will greatly deteriorate.

    I would be interested in your comments on this subject.

    Sadly, Abe Hayeem’s reply betrays a woeful ignorance of why his own family was forced out of Iraq, recycling the old propaganda myths that the community was forced out by Zionist bombs, and quoting Rachel Shabi’s theory that Jews and Muslims coexisted in perfect harmony until those evil European colonialists forced the Iraqi Jews to live under their yoke in Israel. Both myths have been debunked here and here. See also here.
    Here are the links to the 2 articles. Man its looking bad for Kapo Abe.
    http://jewishrefugees.blogspot.com/2006/04/iraqi-muslims-threw-1951-synagogue.html

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/apr/03/israel-arab-jewish-mizrahi?commentpage=1

  4. Israel is the only democrary in the Middle East. The obsessive focus on Israel is out of order, when so many places across the planet abuse human rights and do not get a look-in. The boycott is outright anti-semitic and presents a replay of the 30’s policies against Jews and now on the only Jewish State. So will you please reflect on your horrible obsession and stop the boycott immediately.