Second protester removed from hall chanting 'Free Palestine'

Google sacks employee for protesting during speech by company’s Israel chief

Engineer interrupts Barak Regev’s talk at New York tech conference, says he refuses to build tech powering ‘genocide, apartheid, or surveillance’

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

A Google Cloud engineer interrupts a speech by Google Israel Managing Director Barak Regev at the Mind the Tech conference in New York City, March 4, 2024. (X video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A Google Cloud engineer interrupts a speech by Google Israel Managing Director Barak Regev at the Mind the Tech conference in New York City, March 4, 2024. (X video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Google fired an employee after he interrupted a speech by the tech firm’s managing director in Israel with pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel declarations at a conference in New York City last week.

Monday’s Mind the Tech conference, which promotes Israel’s industry, featured several speakers including Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan, and Google Israel managing director Barak Regev.

Ahead of the conference, some 600 employees signed a petition to the company’s chiefs urging them to pull their sponsorship over the loss of civilian life in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war, WIRED reported.

Video taken by freelance journalist Caroline Haskins showed the Google employee standing up and interrupting Regev’s speech. Haskins wrote on X she was told to leave by a security guard after tweeting the clip.

“I’m a Google Cloud software engineer, and I refuse to build technology that powers genocide, apartheid, or surveillance,” the employee said in the footage, as many in the crowd jeered in response.

“Project Nimbus puts Palestinian community members in danger. I refuse to build technology that is going to be used for cloud apartheid,” he continued.

“Don’t cloud for apartheid. Don’t tech for apartheid. Free Palestine,” the engineer added as he was dragged out by security, with one woman saying: “See you later.”

Haskins wrote on X that a guard “grabbed my phone, which I quickly took back. He grabbed both my arms and shoved me outside, then yanked my press badge from my neck.”

Israel’s $1.2 billion “Nimbus” is a project with Google and Amazon’s AWS to build and provide cloud-based regional data centers and services to the nation. Anti-Israel employees of Google have criticized “Nimbus,” saying that it will assist the country in surveillance and unlawful data collection of Palestinians.

A spokesman for the tech firm confirmed to CNBC Thursday that the engineer was fired for “interfering with an official company-sponsored event.”

“This behavior is not okay, regardless of the issue, and the employee was terminated for violating our policies,” the official said, but did not specify which policies were violated.

Commenting on his protest, the terminated worker told the Hell Gate site in an anonymous interview: “I don’t see any way forward to continue my engineering work without doing this.”

“I consider this a part of my engineering work, and I hope other engineers within Cloud see me do this, and I hope that it galvanizes them,” he said.

After being interrupted, Regev told the crowd that “part of the privilege of working in a company which represents democratic values is giving the stage for different opinions.”

Later on in the conference, a second protester interrupted with chants of “Free Palestine,” prompting Regev to end his presentation early.

Separately, Google shuttered an internal employee messaging board last week due to a surge of comments by users questioning the company’s military contracts with Israel.

Google’s spokesperson told CNBC that users were producing “divisive content that is disruptive to our workplace.”

The war erupted when Hamas-led terrorists burst into Israel by air, land and sea on the morning of October 7, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping another 253, mostly civilians, many amid horrific acts of brutality and sexual assault.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel responded with a wide-scale ground and air campaign that the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said has killed at least 31,045 people, mostly women and children. These figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

During a previous round of fighting between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups in May 2021, 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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