Google's office sign in Poland. Image: Pawel Czerwinski/Unsplash
Google's office sign in Poland. Image: Pawel Czerwinski/Unsplash

An extraordinary example of workers defying their bosses is underway, but much of the mainstream press is simply ignoring it.

On October 12, The Guardian published an anonymous op-ed by Google and Amazon tech workers condemning the contracts signed by their companies with Israel for Project Nimbus. 

Project Nimbus is a $1.2-billion contract that Google and Amazon signed in May to provide data centre and cloud services, as well as “dangerous technology” such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), to the Israeli military and government. This technology “allows for further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians, and facilitates expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land.”

The op-ed stated:

“We are writing as Google and Amazon employees of conscience from diverse backgrounds. We believe that the technology we build should work to serve and uplift people everywhere, including all our users. As workers who keep these companies running, we are morally obligated to speak out against violations of these core values. For this reason, we are compelled to call on the leaders of Amazon and Google to pull out of Project Nimbus and cut all ties with the Israeli military. So far, more than 90 workers at Google and more than 300 at Amazon have signed this letter internally. We are anonymous because we fear retaliation.”

The contract was signed during the same week that the Israeli military massively attacked Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – killing nearly 250 people and levelling buildings where several international media outlets had their offices.

The tech writers stated:

“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.

“We cannot look the other way, as the products we build are used to deny Palestinians their basic rights, force Palestinians out of their homes and attack Palestinians  in the Gaza Strip – actions that have prompted war crime investigations by the International Criminal Court.”

Second op-ed

On the same date that the anonymous op-ed appeared in The Guardian, two tech workers identified themselves in another op-ed published by NBC News on Oct. 12.

Gabriel Schubiner, software engineer and researcher at Google, and Bathool Syed, content strategist at Amazon, wrote: “We’ve joined together as workers across corporate lines for the first time to send a joint letter” calling on Google and Amazon “to respect Palestinian human rights and cancel Project Nimbus.”

Under the contracts:

“Our cloud services would help facilitate the Israeli military’s control and persecution of Palestinians, demolition of Palestinian homes in the occupied Palestinian territories and attacks on Gaza that have hit civilian targets such as hospitals. In addition to the military, Project Nimbus will also provide our cloud services to the Israel Land Authority.”

The Israel Land Authority is the Israeli government agency that manages the expansion of illegal settlements and also handles the segregation of Palestinian communities.

“Because we believe that every person deserves to live with freedom and dignity, we’re calling on Amazon and Google to end their new contracts with the Israeli government and military, which violently oppresses millions of Palestinians.”

Roots of defiance

Project Nimbus was awarded to Google and Amazon in April, after they won out over bids on the project from Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM.

The roots of this tech worker defiance can be traced back to mid-May, when more than 250 workers at Google sent a letter to the company’s CEO Sundar Pichai, calling on Google to increase its support of Palestinians, while reviewing its contracts and corporate donations, and asking for the termination of contracts with “institutions that support Israeli violations of Palestinian rights,” including the Israel Defense Forces.  

When Israel officially announced its signing of Project Nimbus with Google and Amazon in the third week of May, Israel’s finance ministry dismissed the tech workers’ defiance. According to the Times of Israel:

“Asked if the tech giants could decide at any point to shut down services, leaving Israel in the lurch, attorney Zviel Gantz of the legal department at the Finance Ministry (sic) said, ‘According to the tender requirements, the answer is no.’ The contracts also bar the firms from denying services to particular government entities, he said at a briefing with reporters.”

But contracts can be, and are, broken.

Defiance grows

By Oct. 12, the group of 250 defiant Google tech workers swelled to 390 Amazon and Google workers, and by Oct. 13 to more than 800 tech workers. On that date, they were joined by more than 40 groups and NGOs, including Jewish Voice for Peace, World Beyond War, MPower Change, and Fight for the Future.

Together these groups have launched a campaign called “No Tech For Apartheid,” which stands in solidarity with the Google and Amazon tech workers. They are calling for the public to email Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai and Amazon’s CEO Andy Jassy and urge them to cancel Project Nimbus.

Their press release states:

“Following in the footsteps of those who fought for divestment from apartheid South Africa and won, it’s our responsibility to say no to Amazon and Google’s powering of state violence. We know that, together, we can win, too.”

Amazon’s owner and richest man in the world Jeff Bezos seems far more interested in outer space than in a peaceful planet Earth. Indeed, the anonymous tech workers noted “a disturbing pattern of militarization” in recent Google and Amazon contracts and state that “the companies we work for need to stop contracting with any and all militarized organizations in the U.S. and beyond.”

Both Amazon and Google are planning to expand data centres in Montreal and Toronto. If they don’t renounce militarism and cancel Israel’s Project Nimbus, they may find significant pushback in both of those cities.

Joyce Nelson

Canadian freelance writer Joyce Nelson is the author of seven books and many hundreds of articles and essays published by a variety of magazines and websites. During more than 30 years as a full-time writer,...