Soldiers at an Israel Air force base were asked to form up in the shape of the word “Google” when the company’s top executive came to visit, sparking a public outcry.
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Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, visited the Hatzerim Airbase near Be’er Sheva last week. In his honor, soldiers were told to form up between two fighter jets in the shape of the company’s name. The formation was then photographed from the air.
The incident was first reported Monday night by Israel Radio reporter Carmela Menashe.
Schmidt was visiting Israel mainly to meet with start-ups and investors, but he also visited Israel Defense Forces bases.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the special formation was the initiative of the Hatzerim Airbase. “The matter will be looked into, and lessons will be learned,” its statement added.
Paul Solomon, a spokesman for Google in Israel, responded to the Israel Radio report on his Twitter feed. “We don’t know anything about this,” he said. “See, sometimes even Google doesn’t have all the answers.”
The father of one soldier who participated in the formation told Israel Radio that it happened last Monday, when soldiers returned to the base following the Shavuot holiday. “After traveling for three or four hours from their homes, the moment they arrived at the base, they were told they had to go to one of the base’s fields” and form up for a photograph, he said.
“Of course it was all under orders; no one told them it was optional,” he added.
“All this happened at 2 P.M., at the height of the heat, in Be’er Sheva, which is a very hot place,” the father continued. “They didn’t even make sure they had something to drink. The whole process took about an hour and a half, after a day of travel.”
“I don’t think this is what soldiers ought to be doing in the army,” he concluded.
At an event last week to celebrate the tenth birthday of Google’s development center in Israel, Schmidt talked about the connection between Israeli technology and army service.
Israeli entrepreneurs, he said, emerge from their compulsory military service with exceptionally strong leadership and analytical skills, and this has turned Israel into a world leader.