By Ben Cohen
In a major defeat for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the leading association for British architects has rescinded its call for their Israeli counterparts to be suspended from an international association representing the profession.
“We got it wrong,” said Stephen Hodder, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA,) after he confirmed that a RIBA motion passed in March urging that Israelis be barred from the International Union of Architects (UIA,) in protest at the building of “illegal settlements” in the West Bank, was no longer RIBA policy.
According to the London-based Jewish Chronicle, RIBA’s change of heart was triggered by warnings from its lawyers that the endorsement of a boycott of Israel could compromise the institute’s charitable status.
Financial concerns were another factor, as the boycott is said to have cost the institute around $150,000 in lost revenue; many Jewish supporters of RIBA have cancelled bookings to use the institute’s impressive central London building for Bar Mitzvahs and similar events.
Hodder emphasized that the policy change signaled a new, positive approach to international affairs on RIBA’s part. “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 (the International Architects Union) – was wrong,” he said.
The pro-boycott motion passed in March was based, its proponents argued, on a motion passed by the UIA in 2009 condemning building on “ethnically purified or illegally appropriated” land. At a RIBA Council meeting yesterday, Angela Brady, one of the instigators of the original motion, argued that “refusing this motion would send a clear message to the world at large that we as an institution turn a blind eye or by inaction support what’s going on – land grabs, forced removals, killing the state and human rights and reinforcement of apartheid”.
The vote to reverse the boycott motion carried by 23 votes to 16, the Jewish News reported.
RIBA spent much of November embroiled in a row over the boycott. Pro-Palestinian activists loudly protested the visit to Israel and the West Bank of RIBA international officials Peter Oborn and Sumita Sinha, which led Ahmed Edaily, the chairman of the Engineers Association Jerusalem Centre, to accuse the institute of “participating in war crimes.”
But Daniel Leon, a Jewish RIBA councilor who has actively opposed the boycott, accused Brady and other pro-boycott RIBA members of “prejudice,” pointing out that RIBA does not advocate a boycott of serial violators of human rights like Qatar, where over one thousand migrant workers have been killed constructing stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, with thousands more continuing to labor in appalling conditions.
“The motion was one-sided and prejudiced, singling out Israel as the biggest villain in the world, while RIBA members continue to work in China and Russia, and indeed Qatar and Syria, without sanction,” Leon said.