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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

‘Moral obligation’: Google, Amazon employees mobilise to protest Israeli contract


More than 2,000 employees feel ‘morally obligated’ to speak out

Employees from Google and Amazon published an open letter in The Guardian calling for an end to Israeli ties with both companies.

The letter was initially signed by 90 and 300 employees at Google and Amazon respectively. A follow-up update announced that those numbers have now increased to 600 and 1,000 employees at the two companies, bringing the number of signatures close to 2,000. 

More employees have likely signed the letter since the update. The signatories remained anonymous for fear of retaliation.

While employees at large tech companies have protested similar decisions in the past, this is the first time workers from two companies unite to oppose a political decision.

In the letter, employees protested their companies’ decision to partner with Israel, particularly in regards to Project Nimbus.

What is Project Nimbus?

In April, Google and Amazon Web Services (AWS) won a $1.2 billion contract to provide cloud services in Israel. This includes creating services for public organisations, including the occupying Israeli military and Israel Land Authority.

The military is known for its countless human rights offences, most recently, its killing of more than 200 Palestinians, including 65 children in a brutal offensive on Gaza this year.

The Israel Land Authority (ILA) is responsible for expanding Israel’s illegal settlement on Palestinian land. Human Rights Watch has accused the governmental institution of discriminatory policies.

Project Nimbus required that participating companies provide cloud services to all branches of the occupying Israeli government. It prohibits Google or Amazon from refusing to provide services to any institution, including the military and ILA.

In April, Google and Amazon signed the contract amid the brutal bombardment of Gaza At the time, Doha News reported on staff at Apple, Google and Facebook expressing support for Palestinians.

Read more: Hundreds of Facebook employees mobilise to tackle Palestinian censorship

However, while some branches of the occupying government engaged in pummelling the besieged Strip with air strikes, others were securing deals with US tech companies as they rushed to compete for a share of the $1.2 billion that was up for grabs.

It’s widely reported that Microsoft, Oracle and IBM were competing to be part of Project Nimbus.

What does this letter demands

The letter titled, “We are Google and Amazon workers. We condemn Project Nimbus.” was published in The Guardian on Tuesday.

It was signed by employees who feel “morally obligated to speak out against violations of these [uplifting] core values”. 

Though they have decided to remain anonymous for “fear of retaliation”, a follow-up letter on NBC was published by Gabriel Schubiner from Google and Bathool Syed from Amazon. 

Our employers signed a contract called Project Nimbus to sell dangerous technology to the Israeli military and government. This contract was signed the same week that the Israeli military attacked Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – killing nearly 250 people, including more than 60 children. The technology our companies have contracted to build will make the systematic discrimination and displacement carried out by the Israeli military and government even crueler and deadlier for Palestinians,” the letter said.

Employees also added that they couldn’t ignore that the products they build are being used to suppress the fundamental rights of Palestinians. 

The letter ends with a condemnation of Project Nimbus and a plea to the international community and tech workers alike to build products that promote a safe environment for everyone.

Why now?

Since the contract was signed several months ago, it’s prompted some people to wonder why the letter was published now.

While we don’t know the motivation behind this protest’s origins, it represents a more significant change observed in the tech industry.

Previously, it was governments that took the most significant decisions. They regulated companies, and companies had to obey.

The 21st century saw the rise of billion and trillion-dollar companies that gradually overpowered even the most powerful governments. When the FBI asked Apple to build a less secure version of iOS to allow it to read data, the phone company publicly refused the request.

An even more notable example is the dispute between Facebook and Australia that took place earlier this year. 

When Australia introduced a law that would require social networks to pay for news, the social media giant flexed its power by taking down all Australian news pages, including public health and emergency services. 

The Australian government quickly made amendments to the law, and Facebook restored access to all pages.

However, just as tech companies realised their powers over governments, employees have started to realise their powers over their employers. 

As a result, we’re seeing more and more employees stand up to their companies to address moral issues. As the follow-up letter puts it, “tech workers are growing concerned about how technology can harm communities”.

Such stands are likely to make an impact. 

In 2018, Googled halted Project Maven, a contract with the Pentagon that assisted the US military in analysing drone footage. It came after an internal backlash against working with military organisations. 

Project Maven started with an internal petition signed by almost 5,000 employees, with 13 resigning from the company.

If the backlash to Project Nimbus continues to grow, it’s likely to impact the companies’ ties with Israel. However, even if Amazon and Google decided to back out, they may not be able to.

According to the follow-up letter, “the contracts assure continuity of service even in the case either company wants to drop out due to employee protest.”

As such, it’s unclear if the companies will terminate the contracts, even if they choose to.

Another win for Palestine

Despite the legal constraints, these letters provide renewed hope for Palestinian rights in the region and comes amid growing support for Palestinians worldwide.

Read more: How social media beat Israel’s propaganda machine

Protestors in Liverpool carried the Palestinian flag this week [Liverpool Echo]

On Tuesday, Author Sally Rooney rejected a Hebrew translation of her latest novel by an Israeli company. She explained that she would “be proud” for the Hebrew translation to be made with a BDS-compliant organisation.

In Liverpool, protesters carrying the Palestinian flag took to the streets to protest a controversial arms fair event in the city.

Read more: BDS or strategy? Nike’s move to end Israel sales prompts questions on ‘motives’

Support for Palestinians is becoming more mainstream, particularly in western nations that showed little support for Palestine just a few years earlier. 

As globalisation increases the mixing of people from different backgrounds, there’s hope that the message of a free Palestine will spread through the rest of the globe.

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