Employees at Google have published an open letter urging the tech giant to lend support to Palestinians suffering during the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
The signatories, reportedly 250 “diverse Jewish and allied Googlers,” urge “a review of all Alphabet business contracts and corporate donations and the termination of contracts with institutions that support Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, such as” the Israeli military. Alphabet is Google’s parent company.
The letter also calls on the search giant not to stifle public debate on the conflict and asks the company to “object to the conflation of Israel with the Jewish people [and] affirm that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism.”
The letter, written by a group called Jewish Diaspora in Tech, urges the company to “heed the requests of Palestinian Googlers … fund relief for Palestinians affected by military violence” and “recognize the pain” of Palestinians in a “company-wide statement” that “must include direct recognition of the harm done to Palestinians by Israeli military and gang violence.”
The authors ask Google to reaffirm its commitment to human rights and “protect freedom of speech.” This latter demand touches on the debate both offline and online on anti-Zionism and antisemitism; many critics claim that equating the two facilitates the silencing of social-media posts and websites critical of Israel.
“Conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism is a political tactic used to silence critique of Israel, and harms everyone, including Jews, by reinforcing the common antisemitic trope of dual-loyalty and erasing the many anti-Zionist Jews,” the authors write.
“Blurring the distinction between antisemitism and criticism of the Israeli state serves bad actors on both sides. For supporters of the occupation, this makes it easier to deflect any critique of Israel by saying it’s antisemitic; for those who are true antisemites, it makes it easier to dismiss concerns about actual antisemitism (which is on the rise across Europe and the U.S.).”
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The group says Google is uniquely poised to address this issue as “Google is the world’s largest search engine and any repression of freedom of expression occurring within the company is a danger not only to Googlers internally but to all people around the world.”
In this regard, the letter also takes aim at Israel’s reputation as the Startup Nation. “Google’s role in upholding and furthering the image of Israel as an important location for tech work that includes Israel in the distribution of Tech capital can be construed as tacit support for Israeli militarism and distracts from Israel’s human-rights abuses,” it says. “Only action from Google can dispel that.”
The authors describe themselves as “a community of members of the Jewish diaspora working in the tech industry.” On their website, they cite Jewish ideals such as tikun olam – repairing the world – and “Never again for anyone,” a play on “Never again,” a phrase that arose after the Holocaust
They talk about “defending our Jewish values [and] celebrating the anti-colonialist traditions of our Jewish ancestors … in solidarity with all peoples at the forefront of the fight against white supremacist violence and the carceral state.”
A Google employee in Israel who requested to stay anonymous told Haaretz that local Googlers thought the letter was “laughable, if not ridiculous. We live and work here and we don’t want or need senior management to get involved, but some how these people in America - who aren’t being threaten by rockets - are so affected by what’s happening here they do?”
They further said that as most of local workers are politically aligned with the center-left and do not support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government or its policies, “we know that voicing support for this or that side at this stage will only further fan the flames. It’s better that Google stay neutral, specially because many here oppose the government.”
A representative of Google Israel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the past, Google has been criticized for its operations in various countries, notably in China, where it adhered to certain censorship rules dictated by the regime. At the start of 2020, the company’s international relations chief stepped down over what he described as Google’s determination to enter the Chinese market at any cost.
In the past year, Google’s map service has been criticized for its blurring of images in both Israel and Turkey. For Israel, the blurring was made possible by now-defunct legislation in the United States, the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment.