On May 13, The Nation published Michael Sorkin’s appallingly inaccurate “The Trials of Rafi Segal,” which presented a dramatic tale of betrayal. However, the article has the facts backwards and the truth upside down and violated fundamental standards of journalism.
Sorkin’s journalistic travesty recounted the tale of Rafi Segal, an Israeli architect, who was selected to be the “preferred architect” to design the Israel National Library, only to have the winning title and potential contract snatched away. According to Sorkin, Segal was betrayed by the competition sponsor, an Israeli foundation funded by the Rothschilds. Sorkin also blamed me personally for raising questions about the ownership of rights to the winning design. Sorkin called Segal’s disqualification the “narrowest (and phoniest) legalism” and claimed that Segal was “forced to go to the courts to counter the manifest injustice he has suffered.”
A dramatic tale, as related by Sorkin, but not the truth. In reality, Segal violated the rules of the competition to obtain an unfair advantage, lied about it, was eventually found out and was disqualified as a result. Segal’s disqualification was the result of his own misdeeds and deceit.
Segal’s meritless lawsuit, in which he sought to be reinstated as the designer of the National Library of Israel, was a complete failure. In September, facing the certainty of final dismissal of his claim by the court, Segal entirely abandoned his case. Moreover, overruling Segal’s objections, the Jerusalem District Court awarded to HyperBina the sum of 30,000 Israeli new shekels in attorneys’ fees and costs, an unusually large fee award in Israel for a pre-trial resolution, and the second award of attorneys’ fees made by the court against Segal and in favor of HyperBina.
In addition to his failed lawsuit, during the process, Segal spread falsehoods in public. Segal’s behavior was described in a public statement by the competition organizer, the Israeli National Library Construction Company (with board directors from the Israeli National Library and Yad Hanadiv): “All the detailed facts [about the disqualification] 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.”
The competition organizer also stated, “The decision [to disqualify Segal] was taken separately by both the board of the National Library Construction Company and the board of the [Israeli] National Library—unanimously in both instances.”
Segal exemplifies a classic case of manipulation by someone who is dealing with two parties that do not have direct contact with each other. Segal lacked (or did not want to spend) the resources needed to compete in the Israel National Library competition, so he approached HyperBina Design Group to contribute essential design work. However, the competition rules allowed only Israeli-registered architects to participate in the first round of the competition. So, in his dealing with HyperBina in Cambridge, Segal concealed the portion of the competition rules that stated the nationality requirement. He promised, in writing, that HyperBina, which did the majority of design work, would be an “equal partner” in the competition. In dealings with the competition authorities in Jerusalem, Segal concealed HyperBina’s contributions and falsely claimed to be the sole creator and sole owner of rights to the project.
When the competition authorities investigated, the chain of project e-mails and the detailed project documents showed what actually had happened. In the end, the competition authorities disqualified Segal because, as they told the Israeli court, Segal “blatantly violated the rules of the competition and had been deceitful.”
Why did Sorkin get this story so completely backwards? In part, the answer is that Segal is his personal friend, and the two share political views. However, the fundamental reason for Sorkin’s distortion is that he was unwilling to spend the effort and time in proper investigation, expected from responsible journalists, to seek the truth.