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Google and Amazon workers protest companies’ billion-dollar tech deal with Israel

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Hundreds of tech workers alongside pro-Palestinian activists assembled outside Google’s Chelsea offices Sept. 8, chanting “No justice, no peace, tech workers are in the streets!” and holding up hand-painted banners that read “No Tech For Israeli Apartheid.” 

Stretched across the U.S. — including San in Francisco, Seattle and Durham, North Carolina — the demonstrations were the first unified in-person efforts by workers at Google and Amazon calling on the tech giants’ to end their controversial $1.2 billion contract with the Israeli government and military, fearing the technologies they build are being used to increase violations of Palestinians' human rights.

“We are here today because Google’s leadership decided that arming the nations of the world with the tools for surveillance, control, and violence is more important than their workers values, their users safety, and Palestinian lives,” Gabriel Schubiner, a software engineer with Google specializing in artificial intelligence, told the crowd assembled on Eighth Avenue.

Since the April 2021 public announcement of the multi-year contract, dubbed Project Nimbus, which is providing the Israeli government with cloud computing services and artificial intelligence tools, hundreds of workers at the two tech companies have raised concerns. 

According to an October 2021 joint letter by anonymous Amazon and Google workers, the technology allows for the “further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians, and facilitates expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land.” The workers launched the No Tech For Apartheid campaign the day after the letter was published. They have been organizing for over a year with grassroots organizations such as MPower Change, a Muslim advocacy organization, and Jewish Voice for Peace, both of which were also at the Chelsea.

“As workers, we have to speak up if our labor is being used to inflict harm upon communities,” one Amazon tech worker who wanted to remain anonymous in fear of retaliation, told the crowd. “We cannot allow our labor to fuel apartheid.” 

Last year, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused Israel of committing crimes against humanity and described it as an apartheid state.

The technologies Google and Amazon provide would allow Israel to detect faces, track objects, and assess emotions from facial expressions, the Intercept found upon reviewing leaked Google documents. Schubiner, who has worked at Google for six years, said there is “no oversight on how the technology is used, and no limitations on how the powerful infrastructure we are providing can be weaponized.” 

Referencing Google’s past endeavors such as Project Maven, a Pentagon contract abandoned after pressure from employees in 2018, Schubiner said Project Nimbus was not the first nor the last step in Google’s drive to become a military contractor.

Google’s press team responded to queries about the Sept. 8 demonstration by saying the “protest group is misrepresenting the contract — our work is not directed at highly sensitive or classified military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence services.” They said the cloud services were to help address Israel’s challenges within the public sector.

Retaliation against workers

“This contract is the result of years of worker oppression, union busting and anti-organizer retaliation,” Schubiner, who is also a worker organizer with the Alphabet Worker Union, said. Google fired four employees in November 2019 following their internal organizing efforts. Unlike at Google, tech workers in Amazon are not unionized. 

Last week’s protests come a week after Ariel Koren, a Google employee, resigned from her job citing a hostile working environment after she spoke out against Project Nimbus and started organizing. She was given an ultimatum in November by the company to either move to Brazil or lose her job. In her resignation announcement, Koren, who is Jewish, wrote “Google is aggressively pursuing military contracts and stripping away the voices of its employees through a pattern of silencing and retaliation towards me and many others.”

The day Koren announced her resignation, 15 Palestinian Google workers posted testimonies to YouTube, asking the company to stop working with Israel, and criticizing Google’s treatment of Palestinians and the censorship of employees who support them. Schubiner echoed the sentiment, saying his Palestinian colleagues felt silenced, adding, “As Jewish workers, we experienced consistent conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. We were excluded from specifically Jewish spaces on campus.”

Dylan Saba, a civil rights attorney defending pro-Palestinian voices with the nonprofit Palestine Legal, told the crowd that his organization was contacted a year ago by the No Tech For Apartheid campaign before they went public, as workers in both companies were already facing internal repression and tactics of intimidation from their management. “People were getting called into HR, just for organizing internally and having the audacity to speak out against Israeli apartheid,” he said.

Asked about the accusations of retaliation, Google’s press office said, “That’s simply not true. We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy.” Concerning Koren’s case, they said both Google and the National Labor Relations Board investigated her complaint and found no wrongdoing.

Amazon and Israel’s foreign press department did not respond to email queries regarding Project Nimbus.

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