Over 1,000 Google and Amazon workers now back an anonymous open letter calling for the mega tech companies to end their contract with the Israeli government. Three of the signers have come forward. Two of them are Jewish.
Ariel Koren and Gabriel Schubiner made their identities known to push a growing number of Google and Amazon employees who vehemently oppose a $1.2 billion contract with the Israeli government. In the open letter, Google and Amazon employees also claimed to have witnessed their employers “aggressively” pursue contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense and Immigration and Customs. Yet and still, the final straw drawn of questionable deals was the latest Israeli bid.
The billion dollar contract with Israel makes Google and Amazon the main cloud service providers in an initiative called Project Nimbus. In the open letter, which Koren and Schubiner say they helped construct, alleges the Project Nimbus deal is a business relationship in which Google and Amazon, two of some of the largest data gathering entities in the world, are primed “to sell dangerous technology to the Israeli military and government” that will “make the systematic discrimination and displacement carried out by the Israeli military and government even crueler and deadlier for Palestinians.”
To worsen matters, the dissenting employees wrote that the deal was sealed the exact week that Israeli military waged air strikes onto the Gaza Strip. The bombings resulted in the deaths of at least 60 Palestinian children out of nearly 300 killed. “For me as a Jewish employee of Google, I feel a deep sense of intense moral responsibility,” Koren, a San-Francisco-based product marketing manager in Google’s education division, told the Jewish News of Northern California.
Much of the details involving Project Nimbus have “little transparency and visibility” explained Koren in an interview with MSNBC. But what is known, she said, is that the workers’ services are “going to be made available to the Israeli military and to the ILA [Israel Land Authority] which is the agency responsible for the illegal expansion of segregated settlements.”
Issues between Jewish occupation and Palestian native populations have been ongoing for decades. Tensions spiked earlier this year when a a video recording emerged of a Jewish settler forcing out a Palestinian family from land earmarked for Palestinians. Eventually, growing tensions turned into a heated battle where Hamas groups directed rockets to Israel after the Jewish government raided and killed attendees at a mosque during Ramadan. In return, Israel dropped deadlier bombs on non-warring communities.
Israel also blocked food from being transported into the area, as well as blocked fisherfolk from catching seafood in Gaza Strip waters. Following days of fighting, the clash caused the international community to voice concern. President Joe Biden requested a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza in a phone call to then Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
In the past, conversations about Jewish-Palestinian affairs is dealt with as such a hot button issue that is difficult to talk about. Apparently, even in tech spaces. Koren and Schubiner are members of the Jewish Diaspora in Tech, a group of Google employees who discuss Jewish issues and experiences in tech spaces. However, they say their group members are banned for their stance against Israel and Zionism. “I was kind of shocked to find that the conversations about equity that we tried to have in that [Jewish Google] space were very quickly derailed into conversations that used antisemitism as a means to avoid talking about other types of racial equity,” said Schubiner, who lives in the New York City area and works as a software engineer for Google.
For Koren and Schubiner, to be the face of dissent regarding the Israeli contract was intentional and meaningful. “As Jews, we’re relatively more insulated against charges of antisemitism that often come up in these discussions,” said Schubiner who is a software engineer living in the New York City area. “I do recognize the privilege that comes with my identity and talking about this issue without fear of retaliation.”
Schubiner admits that the series of 2020 George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter demonstrations over the years forced him to re-evaluate his understanding of society. For Koren, she contends that she has “the right” but also the “responsibility and duty” to hold Google and Amazon accountable. While the details of the contract show that it might make it hard for the deal to be dissolved, the call to cancel it remains.