June 23, 2024

Mikayla Macfarlane

Serving technology better

Google workers publish letter criticizing company’s Israel-Palestine ‘double standard’

4 min read
Google and Alphabet Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai arrives at the federal courthouse in Washington, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

A group of Google employees has published an open letter on Medium calling out an alleged double standard in the company related to freedom of expression surrounding the Israel-Palestine war. The essay condemns “hate, abuse and retaliation” within the company against Muslim, Arab and Palestinian workers. The employees who penned the letter, which doesn’t include specific names out of fear of retaliation, demand that CEO Sundar Pichai, Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian and other senior leaders publicly condemn “the ongoing genocide in the strongest possible terms.” In addition, they urge the company to cancel Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion deal to supply AI and other advanced tech to the Israeli military.

“We are Muslim, Palestinian, and Arab Google employees joined by anti-Zionist Jewish colleagues,” the letter opens. “We cannot remain silent in the face of the hate, abuse, and retaliation that we are being subjected to in the workplace in this moment.”

The letter cites specific examples of emotionally charged and inappropriate workplace behavior. These include unnamed Googlers accusing Palestinians of supporting terrorism, committing “slander against the Prophet Muhammad,” and publicly calling Palestinians “animals” on official Google work platforms. The group describes leadership as “standing idly by” in the latter two cases, and it says Google managers have called employees “sick” and “a lost cause” for expressing empathy toward Gaza residents.

The employees say Google managers have publicly asked Arab and Muslim people in the company if they support Hamas as a response to their concern for Palestinian families. “There are even coordinated efforts to stalk the public lives of workers sympathetic to Palestine and to report them both to Google and law enforcement for ‘supporting terrorism,’” the letter reads.

Google and Alphabet Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai arrives at the federal courthouse in Washington, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Other examples cited include “heartfelt appeals” to donate to a charity for Gaza citizens being “met with multiple comments dehumanizing Gazans as being ‘animals,’ disregarding their plight and calling upon Googlers to boycott relief work for civilians due to the fact that Palestinian schools and hospitals were being used for ‘terrorism.’” The letter also accuses Google managers of using their rank to “question, report, and attempt to get fired Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian Googlers who express sympathy with the plight of the besieged Palestinian people.” It describes one manager endorsing “surveillance of Google employees on social media,” and then openly harassing them on Google work platforms.

“You have to be very, very, very careful, because any sort of criticism toward the Israeli state can be easily taken as antisemitism,” Sarmad Gilani, a Google software engineer who tells Engadget he did not take part in the letter, said in an interview with The New York Times. “It feels like I have to condemn Hamas 10 times before saying one tiny, tiny thing criticizing Israel.”

In an emailed statement to Engadget, Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini wrote, “As we’ve shared, this is a highly sensitive time and topic in every company and workplace, and we have many employees who are personally affected. The overwhelming majority of those employees are not engaged in internal discussions or debate, and many have said they’ve appreciated our fast response and our focus on the safety of our employees.” The company said the situation involves a small number of Googlers whose views don’t represent the entire workforce. It encourages employees to voice concerns to HR, and it adds that it has taken action within the last month when conduct violates company policy.

The tensions inflamed in the last month by the Israel-Palestine war have resurfaced resentments about Google’s involvement in Project Nimbus. In 2021, Google and Amazon workers penned a similar open letter calling on their companies to pull out of the deal, which they said would enable surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians. Today’s letter echoes that sentiment. “We demand that Google stop providing material support to this genocide by canceling its Project Nimbus contract and immediately cease doing business with the Israeli apartheid government and military,” it reads.

In response to the Project Nimbus concerns, Google spokesperson Mencini wrote to Engadget, “This is part of a longstanding campaign by a group of organizations and people who largely don’t work at Google. We have been very clear that the Nimbus contract is for workloads running on our commercial platform by Israeli government ministries such as finance, healthcare, transportation, and education. Our work is not directed at highly sensitive or classified military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence services.”

Update, November 8, 2023, 11:04 PM ET: This story has been updated to correct an error that interpreted the NYT interview with Sarmad Gilani as indicating he participated in the letter. However, he clarified to Engadget that he was not involved with the letter to Google management. We regret the error and apologize to Mr. Gilani.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/google-workers-publish-letter-criticizing-companys-israel-palestine-double-standard-181516404.html?src=rss

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