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Google Accused of Using Diversity Initiatives to Silence Employees on Military Contracts With Israel


No Tech For Apartheid next to cameras made of Google Camera logo. Image: Alyssa Shotwell.

On August 30, Google marketing manager Ariel Koren left her dream job after years of alleged threats and intimidation, as she’s been one of the most vocal and visible Jewish voices in tech speaking out against Israeli Apartheid. Often used as a union-busting tactic, Google gave her a three-week notice that she was to uproot her life (despite most employees working from home) and move 6,479 miles into another country or else lose her job. In an interview with Democracy Now!, Koren stated that despite not giving a final answer, her manager told people that she was leaving.

This firing and more has prompted greater scrutiny at the way Google has silenced employees via Human Resources, affinity groups, and policies that affect users (including YouTube creators) when it comes to Israel.

Much of this story revolves around Project Nimbus, however, as we’ll get into below, there are implications of Israeli bias at Google, from military contracts to content moderation. Even if you had no particular qualms with apartheid and colonialism (which … what???) or are under the false assumption of “well both sides are equally wrong” and “this is a thousand-year-old issue,” this and other stories should serve as another loud alarm as to the way companies weaponize use the language of social justice to conceal violence and weed out dissent.

What is Project Nimbus?

Project Nimbus is a $1,200,000,000 collaborative project between Amazon, Google, and the Israeli government/military—more specifically, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Google claims that this will not be used to surveil Palestinians, despite evidence that Israel does this all the time and the reporting that Google could not add stipulations as to which departments had access to this technology.

Gaza has correctly been described as the world’s “largest open-air prison.” Days before Koren’s New York Times profile, news broke that the Israeli government would require anyone who falls in love with or plans on engaging in a romantic relationship with a Palestinian in the West Bank must register with the Israeli government. This is regular-ish news for non-Jewish residents of Israel and Palestine, and it’s only garnering international ire because it will affect the whole world. This same policy included a cap on up to 150 students and 100 lecturers from outside the region being allowed to teach in Palestinian universities.

When—not if—Israel uses this technology to track and spy on dissidents and Palestinians, Google already worked in the language to clear themselves of blame by stating to the New York Times that it can be used for a number of things “but is not directed to highly sensitive or classified workloads.”

The tracking and machine learning software and cloud space isn’t just for watching Palestinians and their Israeli allies. The Intercept collected documents (and anonymous testimony) showing that Google claimed the systems could detect inner feelings from statements and facial expressions. So, it could be used to “predict” crimes or used as evidence of them. Anyone that knows anything about AI content moderation on YouTube knows that this is faulty and exacerbates existing bias. Google is proudly touting this tech as fit for the IDF.

Google uses affinity groups as cover

Koren and dozens of other Jewish employees say they noticed hostility when speaking out individually within the company, so they chose to speak to others in the company-sponsored employee resource group called Jewglers. This is a part of Google and many organizations’ diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. However, here Koren and others found the group to be increasingly hostile. In a blog published August 30, Koren explains how the group:

  • pushed for Project Nimbus and sought to retaliate against those who dissented.
  • donated almost half a million dollars to anti-Black groups in retaliation against Google donating to Black Lives Matter (which many Jewglers claimed to be antisemitic on the grounds of being pro-liberation for Palestinians) in 2020.
  • pressured Google into sending an internal message in favor of Israel after IDF airstrikes killed over 200 people (almost half of them children) and attacked the media center of the AP and Al Jazeera in 2021.

Being an officer in a Black student group during the summer of 2020 and after, I’ve witnessed firsthand how administrations have pushed people out or uplifted DEI groups that not only best align with their vision but also fall in line when the institution wants to present a face of liberation. This uplift comes in advertising, funding, letters of recommendation, and more. Koren’s account (and others who spoke with the press) mirror my own experience, but in a realm a lot more “controversial.”

Because Koren and others received backlash for not upholding Zionist views, they began their own group in 2020 called Jewish Diaspora in Tech (JDT). With over 500 members across tech, they’ve begun organizing No Tech for Apartheid, calling Amazon, Google, and companies like them “new war profiteers.”

No Tech for Apartheid

One part of this organizing includes JDT reaching out to Palestinian and non-Jewish allies in Google. Together, they put together testimony in video form and online, from mostly anonymous Google employees, being frank about how they feel regarding Google’s contracts with Israel and the U.S. military.

The anti-Palestinian bias within Google is so strong that Googlers have been reported for antisemitism just for identifying as Palestinian, and some on the content moderation side of Google said reports favored Israel when videos and comments were reported on YouTube. This video was followed up with a call to action set for September 8 called Day of Action #NoTechinApartheid.

Here, at least four rallies across the U.S. sprang up and protested, drawing hundreds of people. Additionally, prominent voices like Linda Sarsour and Jewish Voice for Peace came to speak. While they still spoke up, much of the news and coverage was overshadowed by Queen Elizabeth’s death.

The hashtag is still in use for updates and to draw attention to the violence Google is contributing to.

Koren has repeatedly told outlets that what motivates them is that companies like Google have bowed to pressure regarding contracts with militaries and oppressive regimes. In 2018, Google dropped out of a lucrative cloud and AI contract renewal, Project Maven, with the Pentagon and Department of Defense. They’ve also canceled a censored search project for the Chinese government (Project Dragonfly). However, in 2021, news broke that they were seeking to work with the U.S. military once again, and the outcry seemed quieter (outside of unions, anyways).

(via Koren on Medium & The New York Times, featured image: Alyssa Shotwell.)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. Starting as an Online Editor for her college paper in October 2017, Alyssa began writing for the first time within two months of working in the newsroom. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3. Still trying to beat Saxon Farm on RCT 3 (so I can 100% the game.)