Project Nimbus: Google employee accuses tech giant of profiteering off Palestinian pain

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Speaking to Middle East Eye, Ariel Koren says the tech giant’s $1.2bn contract with Israel will ‘fuel Israeli apartheid violence’

A Google employee who is quitting the company this week has accused the tech giant of profiting from the systemic abuse of Palestinians after her efforts to thwart a billion-dollar contract with the Israeli military were reportedly met with retaliation.

Ariel Koren, 28, will be leaving Google on Friday citing what she said was its creation of a hostile work environment due to her opposition to Project Nimbus.

The project is a $1.2bn contract for a cloud computing system built by Google and Amazon to provide the Israeli government and its military with artificial intelligence and machine-learning tools.

‘Google and Amazon are providing cloud services and powerful technology to fuel Israeli apartheid’

– Ariel Koren

Koren said that instead of listening to her concerns, Google blindsided her in November 2021 with an ultimatum: either agree to move from San Francisco in California to Sao Paulo, Brazil, or lose her job.

Speaking to Middle East Eye before announcing her decision to resign, Koren said: “What we know about Project Nimbus is that Google and Amazon are providing cloud services and powerful technology to fuel Israeli apartheid violence, to profit off of Israeli apartheid violence, and to aid the Israeli government in scaling out systemic abuses of Palestinian human rights.”

In the past year, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have followed the decision by several Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations to describe Israel as an apartheid state. Other Palestinian activists say that even the apartheid framework falls short in describing Israeli brutality.

“Google and Amazon are standing by this contract and refusing to listen to the thousands of voices of opposition calling on the company to provide transparency, to do the right thing, and ultimately rescind this contact,” Koren said.

Since a petition began in October, around 800 Google and Amazon employees and 37,500 others have signed onto the call to end the partnership.

Lack of transparency

Since the project was announced more than a year ago, little is still known about the specifics of the deal. It is understood that the project would increase Israeli military expertise in artificial intelligence, including that used in surveillance of the fence, walls, and in the monitoring of Palestinian activists.

Israel’s finance ministry has said the project would ensure that data “will remain within Israel’s borders”.

Google worker who protested $1bn contract with Israeli military quits after ‘retaliation’

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Koren’s announcement on Tuesday came in conjunction with several anonymous audio testimonies from other Google employees that called out the company for its continued work with the Israeli military and its failure to curb retaliatory tactics against those who opposed the project.

“Project Nimbus makes me feel like I am making my living off my family’s oppression,” one Palestinian employee said anonymously, fearing reprisal from superiors.

Another commented: “Project Nimbus will demoralise and agonise the many Googlers who truly believe and stand for Google’s mission.”

Bathool Syed, a content strategist at Amazon, told MEE that colleagues at the company were similarly concerned about retaliation if they spoke out for Palestinians or against Israeli human rights violations.

“The concern for Palestinian workers is that not only will Amazon retaliate; not only are their jobs on the line, but really truly the lives and the livelihoods of their families are on the line in Palestine,” Syed said.

‘The world is watching’

Lau Barrios, campaign manager of MPower Change who are co-organisers of a campaign to hold Google and Amazon accountable, told MEE that Koren’s decision to resign showed there were workers out there who “do not want their labour to be used to enable Israel’s violence against the Palestinian people”.

“Workers are more than willing to take risks and withhold their labour when tech companies choose to do business with colonial apartheid states.

“Alongside tech workers, we’re telling Google and Amazon that the world is watching what they’re doing and we won’t be silent,” Barrios said. 

“Unsurprisingly, Koren’s resignation proves that Google is more interested in their bottom line than in taking their workers’ extremely reasonable and important concerns seriously.”

Google did not respond to MEE’s request for comment, however, a spokesperson for the company told the New York Times that “we prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy”.

“We thoroughly investigated this employee’s claim, as we do when any concerns are raised.”

The spokesperson added that the company is proud to have been “selected by the Israeli government to provide public cloud services to help digitally transform the country”.

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