Over 500 Google staff rally behind colleague opposing the firm’s Israel military contract

Google headquarters is seen in Mountain View, California (Tayfun Coşkun - Anadolu Agency)

Middle East Monitor  /  March 17, 2022

Google has come under fire for “unjustly retaliating” against an employee who objected to its contract with the Israeli military. More than 500 of its staff have rallied behind a colleague who alleges she is being pushed out of her job because of her anti-Israeli activism.

The workers have signed a petition accusing Google leadership of “unjustly retaliating” against Google’s Product Marketing Manager for Education, Ariel Koren, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Koren is one of two Jewish Google employees that have been playing a key role in a worker petition calling on the firm to cancel a joint contract to build cloud-based data centre’s on behalf of the Israeli government.

The massive $1.2 billion contract known as Project Nimbus is one of Israel’s largest technology infrastructure ventures. The contract was signed with the Israeli military last May following a bid in which it beat other giants like Microsoft. Google and Amazon are to provide cloud services technology to Tel Aviv and its armed forces.

In October, hundreds of anonymous employees of the companies, who described themselves as “employees of conscience from diverse backgrounds”, condemned the program in an open letter to The Guardian.

The open letter says the deal violates the signers’ “core values” by fostering surveillance of Palestinians and encouraging the expansion of Jewish settlements. “The technology we build should work to serve and uplift people everywhere,” said the employees in the letter. “We are morally obligated to speak out against violations of these core values.”

“For me as a Jewish employee of Google, I feel a deep sense of intense moral responsibility,” Koren was reported saying in the Times of Israel following the publication of the open letter. “When you work in a company, you have the right to be accountable and responsible for the way that your labor is actually being used.”

The LA Times reported that shortly after Koren helped draft the letter among Google and Amazon workers her boss suggested she move to Brazil or lose her position. Koren says that she has faced added scrutiny since raising her concerns over the Nimbus Project. “It was just so outlandish. The whole thing was completely wild,” Koren told the LA Times speaking about her being moved to Sao Paulo.

Though Google has denied the allegations, Koren has argued that the rationale for relocating the position was “clearly designed” to push her off the team. She accused the company of retaliating against her for her activism protesting Project Nimbus.

Koren remains employed by Google. Her complaint is being investigated by the San Francisco labour board.

It was pointed out that the support for Koren highlights continuing tension between Google’s increasingly outspoken workforce and its senior management over how the company’s technology is used. It also fuels the view among a growing cohort of Googlers that the company’s once transparent culture is giving way to a tightly controlled environment that punishes worker activism.