Court discusses ousting of National Library architect

Architects say the Rothschild family rides roughshod over Israeli law in planning national buildings in Jerusalem.

On Monday, the Jerusalem District Court will hold the first hearing on a motion against Yad Hanadiv, which operates in Israel on behalf of a number of Rothschild family trusts, and the National Library Construction Company which will build the new National Library of Israel building in Jerusalem. The petitioner, architect Dr. Rafi Segal, wants the court to declare him the winner in the design competition for the new building and to issue an injunction against contracting with any other architect for this purpose.

This stage of the design competition reached the courts after Yad Hanadiv published a press release on September 12, which stated, "An international Jury has selected Israeli architect, Rafi Segal, as the preferred architect to design a new home for the National Library of Israel."

More than 80 Israeli architects participated in the competition for designing the new National Library. At an advanced stage of the competition, top international architects were invited to submit proposals. Six world-class architects sat on the judges panel.

Sources, close to the judges, said off the record that the winning design stood out among the proposals and carried a different and extraordinary message, which supported and expedited its unanimous selection.

Yad Hanadiv has confirmed to "Globes" that the judges thought that Segal's plan was the most suitable.

Six weeks after the press release, on October 25, at a gala evening at the current National Library building at Givat Ram in Jerusalem, National Library chairman David Blumberg praised the plans for the new building. He said that he hoped that the building would be ready in five years, and that he could invite all the dignitaries for a cornerstone-laying ceremony in 2013.

But on December 6, the National Library Construction Company notified Segal that it was terminating negotiations with him and that he would not be given responsibility for the planning of the new National Library building.

The budget for building the new National Library is $100 million, including $75 million for construction and $25 million for providing access to its digital content. Most of the financing is from donations from the Rothschild Foundation, a founder of Yad Hanadiv, and controlled by the British branch of the Rothschild family.

From the Kinneret Farm to the Knesset

The National Library is not the first national building funded by Yad Nadiv, or which resulted in a public storm over the design competition.

The Rothschild family founded Israel's wine industry in the late 19th century during the Ottoman era. In 1908, the Kinneret farm and moshava were founded by the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association under the auspices of Baron de Rothschild. The venture is remembered by the first strike in Palestine against the Rothschild's clerks.

After Israel's independence in 1948, the Rothschild fortune, managed by Lord Rothschild in London, financed many national buildings, including the construction of the Knesset in the 1950s and the Supreme Court Building in the 1980s. Scandals erupted over both projects related to the selection of the architects. It now appears that a third scandal is brewing over a national building - this time the National Library of Israel.

In the case of the Knesset building, the design competition was jointly organized with the Association of Independent Engineers and Architects in Israel and under its bylaws. The results nonetheless caused a public furor, with criticism about the alleged low quality of the judges whom the critics said selected an unworthy architect whose design did not reflect the style of the new nation.

Following pressure by the Association of Architects on the Knesset, which commissioned the project and on Yad Hanadiv, which financed it, a public committee was established to review the selection of the architect and the building's design. Although the committee did not recommend annulling the results of the competition, it ruled that the winner, architect Joseph Klarwein should have a partner. After the original partner selected died, Dov Carmi, one of Israel's top architects was chosen. Carmi suggested several changes to the design, but died during construction. The Knesset was eventually built according to Klarwein's original design, but with major changes.

The affair left a bitter taste among everyone involved, including the Rothschild family, which donated £1.25 million (in 1957 prices) for the Knesset project. The money came from the estate of James Rothschild, the son of Edmond de Rothschild, known as the Hanadiv Hayadua or Great Benefactor.

This was old-style wealth-government collusion. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion announced the donation at a celebratory Knesset plenum session in 1957, which presumably pleased the Rothschild family. The fact that the Association of Architects was able to force its will and dictate the Knesset building's final design and architectural style was less satisfactory to the family.

The Supreme Court building

The deep scar from the Knesset project among the staff of Yad Hanadiv can be seen in a 2005 study by the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, which examined the second largest building in Israel financed by the Rothschild family - the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem. The study was the MA dissertation by architect Yaniv Pardo.

Pardo's 140-page dissertation led him to a clear conclusion, Yad Nadiv wanted "to play the game in such a way as to fulfill their interests while appearing to be fair." Or in other words, "To control all stages of the project while being the sole authority for planning and implementation and satisfying all bodies …… and to make it look as if public conduct was proper."

When it came to it, Yad Hanadiv's staff conditioned their financing of one of Israel's largest construction projects on maintaining influence on the planning and design procedures. They did not want planning of the Supreme Court to be taken out of their hands as had happened with the Knesset. However, they were confronted by a major problem - the law. The obligation for issuing tenders in Israel requires drawing up public, open and anonymous tenders regarding public funds, and this was certainly the case for a huge project of such outstanding national significance as Israel's Supreme Court building.

Thus Yad Hanadiv had no choice but to organize a contest for architects. According to regulations such a competitions means receiving proposals from all architects that meet the necessary preconditions, appointing a professional committee to judge the anonymously submitted proposals, and signing a contract with the winner. It was hard for Yad Hanadiv to come to terms with such procedures that would leave them no influence.

To satisfy the Israelis

Leading Israeli architect Dan Eytan said several days ago, "The Rothschild Foundation and Yad Hanadiv learnt the lesson of the Knesset and asked not to repeat the mistakes that saw the project they were financing taken out of their hands. To ensure their interests, the Foundation ignored the Israel Architects Association regulation requiring equal and anonymous competitions and invented a new regulation for selecting architects and designs.

Arthur Fried, chairman of the Rothschild Foundation in the 1980s, who declared a competition for planning the Supreme Court building, was not enthusiastic about the notion of a public and open contest as demanded by Israel's architects. Fried thought it would "cause damage" as cited by Pardo who uncovered a letter he had written on the matter to a colleague at another philanthropic foundation.

Pardo's research also reveals that Fried and the Rothschilds in Europe understood it was important that the "spirit of equality" was expressed in the competition otherwise there might be a public backlash and media storm. Therefore, Fried notified the Rothschilds about changes in the regulations that would protect their influence. He wrote, "There won't be any mention of the Architects Association because there won't be any connection to the guidelines or the procedures they publish. We will be required to consult with the Association only on matters regarding the selection of a chairman and advisory body and not on the two members who need to be selected."

And if there was any doubt about the aim of the change, he added, "To strengthen our position in the selection process we have increased the number of 'Hanadiv' on the second judges panel."

Eytan recalls that, "In addition to the change in conditions for choosing the designs, the architect and the panel of judges, the Foundation asked to add a clause that after the professional judging it would be permitted for Yad Hanadiv to cancel the award to the winning architect." This clause was removed after a meeting with Meir Shamgar who was President of the Supreme Court when the new building was under construction. But Shamgar did agree to such a clause during "an exceptional circumstance," such as the construction of the Supreme Court.

Eytan as chairman of the Architects Association called on Israelis to boycott the competition which he felt harmed the public interest and showed contempt for Israeli architects. Yad Hanadiv responded that "not sticking to the existing regulations did not mean it was unfair or inequitable."

Smashing the norms

There was a shrill irony in Yad Hanadiv's response and the situation in which the top legal echelon was bypassing the law, Pardo concluded in his research. "The Supreme Court judges were smashing the norms that they were a party to creating," he wrote.

Eytan recollects that he met with Shamgar and drew his attention to the improper ethics. His impression was that Shamgar was convinced but was reluctant to forego the donation from Yad Hanadiv that paved the way to his dream of an appropriate building for the Supreme Court.

Eytan said, "The same thing is happening with the National Library. Those who once felt like masters have not stopped feeling like masters." He feels that things have got backwards. "If with the Knesset the architects influenced the results against the opinion of the financers and the builders, and if with the Supreme Court the architects protested unfair conditions and succeeded in cancelling the offensive clause, in the third competition for the library, the architects agreed to the dictates of Yad Hanadiv, and the results have been what we see today."

Eytan continued, "The unanimous decision of the judges of international stature who found it hard to choose between second and third place, a proposal that surprised them all - rejected. And to my taste the rejection is vague."

When asked to respond, National Library chairman David Blumberg referred "Globes" to Yad Hanadiv, which declined to comment and asked to provide a statement only in the name of the National Library Construction Company (which has directors from both the National Library and Yad Hanadiv). We were asked to mention that the statement given by the construction company are coordinated with the National Library and was already published regarding the rejection of Segal's design due to copyright matters relating to the design he submitted.

The statement said, "The decision was taken separately by both the board of the National Library Construction Company and the board of the National Library - unanimously in both instances. It should be mentioned that all decisions in the competition as well as the decision to cancel the selection of Segal as the preferred architect were taken according to regulations and do not stem from political considerations. All the detailed facts have been made known to Segal and we regret his attempts to slant and distort the truth by spreading fabrications and claims that have no basis in reality."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on January 6, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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