Two Jewish employees behind the cancellation of Google’s $ 1.2 billion contract with Israel


J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA – Two Jewish Google employees play a key role in a worker petition calling on Google and Amazon to cancel a joint contract to build cloud-based data centers on behalf of the Israeli government.

The massive $ 1.2 billion contract, dubbed Project Nimbus, was signed in May and is one of Israel’s largest tech infrastructure companies. Google and Amazon will transfer data from Israel to six cloud storage centers over the next few years.

The open letter says the deal violates the “core values” of the signatories by allegedly encouraging surveillance of Palestinians and encouraging the expansion of Jewish settlements.

“For me, as a Jewish employee of Google, I feel a deep sense of intense moral responsibility,” said Ariel Koren, who lives in San Francisco and works in Google’s education division. “When you work in a company, you have the right to be responsible for how your work is actually used. “

Koren, along with Gabriel Schubiner, a Google software engineer based in New York, helped design the open letter calling on the two gigantic companies to end the Nimbus Project contract. He appeared in the opinion section of the British news site Guardian on October 12, claiming he was signed by 390 Google and Amazon employees.

“As the workers who operate these companies, we are morally obliged to speak out against violations of these fundamental values,” the statement said. “This technology enables increased surveillance and illegal collection of data on Palestinians, and facilitates the expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

According to Koren, more than 1,000 employees have now signed the petition, although they remain anonymous and J. is unable to verify the number of supporters. Koren and Schubiner are two of the only three signatories in total who have chosen to identify themselves publicly.

The Jewish Googlers duo said their identity as Jews is key to speaking out on behalf of fellow Palestinians who fear retaliation.

“As Jews, we are relatively better protected against the accusations of anti-Semitism that often come up in these discussions,” said Schubiner. “I recognize the privilege that comes with my identity and to speak out on this matter without fear of reprisal.”

I recognize the privilege that comes with my identity and speak out about this matter without fear of retaliation

The pressure to end Project Nimbus’s contract faces an uphill battle. The contract would contain a guarantee preventing the tech giants from pulling out due to boycott pressure. In a brief statement to J., Amazon Web Services said the company “is focused on making the benefits of our cutting edge cloud technology available to all of our customers, wherever they are.” Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Koren and Schubiner spoke of previous instances where Google responded to pressure from employees, ending a contract renewal with the Pentagon and halting work on a censored Chinese search engine. Schubiner added that if the contract with the Israeli government holds, he hopes the open letter will push Google and Amazon towards more transparency in their business contracts and the adoption of ethical standards for future data storage projects.

A bird’s eye view of MATAM, Haifa’s premier tech park where Amazon, Google, Yahoo, Intel, Microsoft, and other tech giants have locations. (CC BY 3.0)

Koren and Schubiner told J. they were working to convince Jewish tech workers who aren’t currently critical of Israel to take a stand on the contract. “Trying to have these kinds of conversations, while listening and being respectful with colleagues, is difficult,” said Schubiner. “It’s not an easy conversation. One that, frankly, Google tried to avoid and tried to shut down because they think it’s so difficult.

Public support for the call was largely limited to hardline anti-Zionist critics of Israel, including the Jewish Voice for Peace and American Muslims for Palestine. These groups support a full boycott of the state. Koren and Schubiner both declined to comment when asked if they wanted Google and Amazon to divest from Israel outside of Project Nimbus.

The two are also members of Jewish Diaspora in Tech, a coalition of left-wing Jews who say they felt excluded from Jewish tech spaces because of their highly critical positions on Israel and Zionism. Schubiner said the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 forced him to reassess the division between his personal life and his work at Google.

“I was a little shocked to find that the conversations about fairness that we tried to have in this [Jewish Google] space very quickly derailed in conversations that used anti-Semitism as a way to avoid talking about other types of racial fairness, ”Schubiner said. Now, he says about 200 people have joined Google’s internal group for the Jewish Diaspora in tech.

“I don’t know if the request to abandon Nimbus is fully feasible,” added Schubiner. “It’s up to the workers to decide that this is an issue we care enough about to really put our skin on the line.”

This article originally appeared in J. The Jewish News of Northern California, and is reprinted with permission.

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