Israeli architects appeal to Foreign Ministry, Britain against boycott threat

It's hypocritical for the Royal Institute of British Architects to suspend Israel’s participation when it works in countries without women's rights.

Tel Aviv Architecture 521 (photo credit: Amit Geron)
Tel Aviv Architecture 521
(photo credit: Amit Geron)
Israeli architects have appealed to the Foreign Ministry and the British government to help prevent the International Union of Architects from suspending their membership in the worldwide organization over the issue of West Bank settlements.
The Israeli Association of United Architects has turned to the two governments after it was targeted by the Royal Institute of British Architects.
“When the British prime minister [David Cameron] was here, he promised not to boycott Israel. This was his statement in front of the Knesset,” Israeli architect Itzhak Lipovetzky said.
Lipovetzky is in charge of foreign relations for the Israeli association and is sending a letter on its behalf directly to Cameron.
The letter comes in response to a March 19 vote by the Royal Institute of British Architects to call on the International Union of Architects (UIA) to suspend Israel’s membership.
In a statement it posted on its website, the institute said it had called for the suspension because the Israeli architects had failed to “act to resist projects on illegally occupied land and [failed to] observe international law and accords.”
The vote was 23 to 16 with 10 abstentions.
This request, the Royal Institute of British Architects said, was in line with UIA Council resolutions approved in 2005 and 2009 to condemn “development projects and the construction of buildings on land that has been ethnically purified or illegally appropriated, and projects based on regulations that are ethnically or culturally discriminatory.”
In both years it also condemned “all action contravening the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Last week the British institute said Israel had disregarded these resolutions.
Lipovetzky said that the British institute had sent the Israeli association a letter last month in advance of the vote.
His organization is targeted by international groups wanting to boycott Israel, because they are involved in the construction industry, Lipovetzky said.
“We are getting a lot of letters of this kind,” he added.
Lipovetzky said he had been in touch with Israel’s Foreign Ministry, which had helped the Israeli architects thwart a similar threat from their British counterparts a number of years ago.
“But now the Foreign Ministry is on strike,” he said.
Both he and the Israeli organization’s president, Prof. Baruch Baruch, said the organization does not have a project in the West Bank. But its membership is diverse and represents all segments of Israeli society, including those living on both sides of the pre-1967 lines.
“This is a democratic and nonpolitical organization. There are members of the organization who are working in the West Bank, and of course there are others who are not. There are a lot of opinions for and against,” Baruch said.
The energy that has been invested in boycotts as a political tool should be spent instead on mutual Israeli-Palestinian projects, Baruch said.
Lipovetzky said that the Israeli organization’s members had good relations with their Palestinian colleagues.
He recalled that five years ago it tried to bring French architects to Gaza, but that Hamas had blocked its efforts.
Baruch added that it was hypocritical of the British institute to focus on suspending Israel’s UIA participation when its own members work in countries that do not offer women rights.
The UIA said it was unclear what action, if any, would be taken. But it added that the Israeli architects could be suspended from the universal organization only by a vote of the 130-member body, which is next scheduled to meet in August in Durban, South Africa.