CAIRO, Egypt - The lead architect tapped to head the $1.7 billion redesign of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center last month hosted the founding meeting of an association of professional building designers considering a boycott against Israel.
On February 2, Richard Rogers gave his office space for the inaugural meeting of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine in his London headquarters.
A statement from the new organization released on February 9 condemns any individual or company working on "occupied territory" as violating their professional ethics and being complicit in promoting "an apartheid system of environmental control."
At the meeting, according to British and trade press reports, the 60 architects discussed boycotting both Israeli architects and construction companies employed in the construction of the country's barrier - part wall and part fence - delineating Israeli Jewish population centers from Palestinian Arab ones. The Independent newspaper of London also said the meeting broached the idea of recommending that Israeli architects be kicked out of the International Union of Architects.
A spokeswoman for Lord Rogers's firm said yesterday that he has not yet lent his personal support to the boycott. However, she said he may endorse the idea at a future date.
"It's something he could not rule out in the future, but it's very early days for the organization," Jennifer Stephens said. In a later e-mail, she said Lord Rogers's association with the group was his personal business and did not reflect the opinions of his architectural firm.
The fact that Lord Rogers will be redesigning a building named for the late Republican Senator Jacob Javits has caused some concern among the American pro-Israel community.
Javits was one of the Jewish state's staunchest defenders in the Senate, where he served from 1956 to 1981. In particular, he was one of the toughest voices to oppose the Arab boycott of Israel in the 1970s. In 1986 President Reagan singled out the Jewish lawmaker's support for Israel in a statement marking his death.
In an interview yesterday, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, said: "Senator Javits was known for his adamant opposition to the boycott. He would have been no doubt distressed to know that an architect engaged to redesign a building bearing his name would be associated with such an anti-Israel effort. Not only does this appear to violate anti-boycott laws, it certainly violates the legacy of Senator Javits."
Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York who ran unsuccessfully for mayor last year, said yesterday he thought Lord Rogers's association with Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine should disqualify him from working on the Javits Convention Center.
"I think the activities of Mr. Rogers and his organization should render him not qualified to do the work on the Javits Center," Mr. Weiner said. "An organization that advocates an economic boycott of Israel is one we should not be getting in bed with.
"Mr. Rogers is free to have his views, and he is free to serve as a member of this organization, but that doesn't mean he should be getting large amounts of taxpayer dollars from the taxpayers of the state of New York. Surely we can find an architect with less abhorrent views."
Lord Rogers, along with two American firms tapped for the redesign of the Javits Center, will be commanding a project whose construction costs in the first phase alone are estimated to be approximately $1.7 billion, according to the Empire State Development Corporation, the entity that awarded the redesign bid in September.
Under this arrangement, the city of New York will pay $350 million in costs; the State of New York will contribute another $350 million; and $645 million will be raised through the sale of bonds.
A spokeswoman yesterday for the development corporation would not comment on Lord Rogers's association with Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine.
"We have no comment at this time. We will speak to Lord Rogers, then we can comment after that. But we have not spoken to him about this," Jessica Copen said. She added, "Of course we don't support an organization that wants to boycott Israel."
A spokeswoman for FXFowle Architects PC, one of the firms partnering with Lord Rogers on the re-design, yesterday declined to comment on the matter until checking with him.
The potential boycott from British architects comes after both Hamas secured a victory in January's Palestinian legislature elections and Israel with drew settlements and forces from Gaza in August and September. The timing of the group's formation coincided with a vote last month by the synod of the Church of England to divest its holdings from companies doing business in the occupied territories.
Ms. Stephens yesterday said that the group's coordinator, Abe Hayeem, was an old friend of Lord Rogers. She added that the intention of the organization was to "promote peace."
The statement following the group's first meeting released last month said, "Planning, architecture and other construction disciplines are being used to promote an apartheid system of environmental control."
It also said, "We hold all design and construction professionals involved in projects that appropriate land and natural resources from Palestinian territory to be complicit in social, political and economic oppression and to be contrary to internationally acceptable professional ethics."
Lord Rogers is one of the world's leading architects. He designed the Pompidou Center in Paris as well as the Lloyds building in London. Lord Rogers could not be contacted directly for this story.