Anonymous Google, Amazon workers decry deal with Israel

In letter, hundreds of employees protest agreement for Nimbus project ‘to sell dangerous technology to the Israeli military and government’

This undated photo made available by Google shows colorful pipes sending and receiving water for cooling Google's data center in The Dalles, Oregon (photo credit: AP/Google, Connie Zhou)
This undated photo made available by Google shows colorful pipes sending and receiving water for cooling Google's data center in The Dalles, Oregon (photo credit: AP/Google, Connie Zhou)

Several hundred anonymous workers at Google and Amazon said in an open letter published Tuesday that they did not support their employers’ decision to build and provide cloud-based regional data centers and services to Israel, noting that they wanted all ties cut with the Israel Defense Forces.

According to the letter, published by The Guardian, more than 90 workers at Google and over 300 Amazon “employees of conscience from diverse backgrounds” have signed on to the initiative.

The workers said they were remaining anonymous because they “fear retaliation,” making the number of signatories impossible to independently verify.

The letter is referring to the Nimbus cloud project, which will enable Israeli government ministries and other public entities to transfer servers and services into the cloud provided by the two tech firms. Until the data centers are built locally — within an estimated two years — cloud services will be provided by Google and Amazon AWS data centers in Ireland, Holland and Frankfurt. All of that data will then be transferred to the ones set up in Israel.

“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,” read the letter, without mentioning the other entities that will be serviced.

The workers said the two tech companies have been pursuing contracts with US institutions such as the Department of Defense, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the police.

“These contracts are part of a disturbing pattern of militarization, lack of transparency and avoidance of oversight,” the letter read.

The workers said the deal with the Israeli government was a continuation in the same vein — a contract “to sell dangerous technology to the Israeli military and government.”

The letter notes that the contract was signed with Israel in May, “the same week that the Israeli military attacked Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – killing nearly 250 people, including more than 60 children.” The letter does not note that the Israeli strikes were in response to Gaza-based terror groups firing thousands of projectiles toward civilians in Israel, causing a number of casualties.

Rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, May 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

“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 read. “Project Nimbus is a $1.2bn contract to provide cloud services for 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 authors of the letter conclude that they “cannot look the other way” while their products 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.” The International Criminal Court investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes is in fact also probing the Hamas terror group for the same thing.

The government contract with Google and Amazon for the services is for an initial seven years, with an option to extend it for a total of 23 years, the officials said. After the first seven years Israel will be able to add other suppliers or halt work with the current ones.

The project, which envisages six data centers being set up in Israel at an investment of at least NIS 4 billion ($1.23 billion), will provide some 500 direct jobs for each center but also boost employment indirectly via the services these centers will be using from other suppliers.

The centers will also help create an ecosystem for startups that provide cloud-based services, the officials said, and train the workforce with the appropriate skills that will then trickle down into the nation’s tech ecosystem. Neighboring countries will also be able to tap into the cloud infrastructure set up in Israel, the Finance Ministry said.

Earlier this year, amid fighting between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups, Google employees asked management to review the company’s contracts with and corporate donations to “institutions that support Israeli violations of Palestinian rights,” citing the Israel Defense Forces as an example of such an institution.

The letter, by Jewish employees of Google, was sent to CEO Sundar Pichai, and called on the tech giant to increase its support of Palestinians as a response to the fighting.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during a visit to El Centro College in Dallas, Texas, Oct. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Asked in May if the tech giants could decide at any point to shut down services, leaving Israel in the lurch, attorney Zviel Ganz of the legal department at the Finance Ministry 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.

Ganz added that such scenarios had been taken in consideration when formulating the tenders. “We made several models for these scenarios and addressed them in the tender,” he said.

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