Safdie Architects group suspends involvement in controversial Armenian Quarter project in Jerusalem, following TNA investigation into Israeli settler links

3 min read
27 December, 2023

Safdie Architects, the firm tasked with designing a luxury hotel in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, announced it has suspended work on the project "after becoming aware of the controversy surrounding the land lease agreement this summer". This follows The New Arab's investigative series, the Armenian Quarter Files, which revealed links between representatives of a company involved in the project and the extremist Israeli settler movement.

The controversy centers around Danny Rothman, a "mysterious" Australian Jewish investor that TNA profiled in August 2023.

In July 2021, Mr. Rothman, through his company Xana Gardens, concluded a deal with the Armenian Patriarchate for the lease of around 13% of the Armenian Quarter in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem to construct a luxury hotel.

Information about the deal was kept hidden from the Armenian community until April 2023, when some local residents found out their homes were included in the land deal.

Indignation over the potential displacement of members of the declining Jerusalem's Armenian community led to the defrocking of Baret Yeretzian, then-director of the Department of Real Estate of the Patriarchate.

In its Armenian Quarter Files, TNA revealed links between representatives of Xana Gardens and extremist members of the Israeli settler movement.

These settlers, armed with guns and dogs, confronted the local Armenian community on November 4-5, after the Armenian Patriarchate announced it has canceled the deal.

TNA was also able to expose links between these settlers and current Israeli politicians, such as minister of national security Itamar Ben-Gvir and Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King.

In a 19 December statement published by the UK NGO Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), Safdie Architects stated that they "were startled when we learned of the objections by members of the Armenian community, which arose after many months of working on [the project]".

Established by Moshe Safdie in Montreal in 1964, the firm is most famous for designing Marina Bay Sands, an integrated resort in Singapore and the city-state's most notorious landmark.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Marina Bay Sands in Singapore was designed by Safdie Architects [Erwin Soo/Creative Commons License]

According to their statement, Safdie Architects were brought onto the project by One&Only Resorts, the hospitality firm allegedly tasked with managing the hotel after its construction.

Dubai-based Kerzner International, which owns the One&Only brand, has so far failed to respond to allegations of its involvement in the project, according to BHRRC.

January 3 correction: The initial headline of this story stated that Safdie Architects had withdrawn from the project. The amended version of the headline now states that the group only suspended their involvement.