Hundreds of Google and Amazon employees anonymously sign a letter opposing the tech giants’ deal with Israel.
As a country compelled to deal with the challenge of scarce natural resources and mostly desert land, Israel values its human resources and believes in providing every available convenience to boost its potential. As Jon Medved, CEO of OurCrowd, a Jerusalem-based investor platform, said, “We don’t have huge natural resources, so we have worked hard to develop our skills-base in the country.”
Even as Israel is globally acclaimed as the “Startup Nation” of the world and at the same time gets noticed for building better-than-existing products, the Bloomberg Innovation Index recently ranked it as the world’s fifth-most innovative country.
There can be no doubt, therefore, that Israel has raised the bar for technological innovation, and could be helped in good measure by receiving Cloud Services in the country. Meanwhile, Google Cloud, with 28 regions and 85 zones across the world, where it delivers high-performance, low-latency services for private and public sectors, announced, in April 2021, that it was extending Cloud Services to a new region – Israel – to support a growing customer base there.
And so, in May 2021, Israel entered into a four-phased, multi-year project named “Nimbus,” worth over $1 billion, with two tech giants, Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. Other bidders for the project like Microsoft, Oracle and IBM were rejected.
Google Cloud's Global Public Sector Vice President, Mike Daniels, said that according to the signed agreement, they would deliver services to all Israeli government entities, from Ministries to state-owned companies. The Israeli military also will be provided cloud services.
Moreover, until the required data centers are constructed in Israel during an estimated two years, Google and Amazon AWS data centers in Ireland, Holland and Frankfurt are expected to deliver the cloud services, and subsequently, transfer all the data once the centers are established in Israel.
The project will initially run for seven years, with Israel having the option of extending it for up to 23 years totally. Furthermore, these cloud projects are envisaged to create employment for about 3000 Israelis, and is divided into four phases that comprise acquiring and building cloud infrastructure, creating government policy to migrate to the cloud, integration and migration to the Cloud, and implementation and optimization of cloud activity.
With Google Cloud services becoming a reality, Moti Gutman, CEO at Matrix IT Ltd in Israel, said, “[Cloud services] will make a significant change in the technology landscape of the public-sector, enterprise and SMB markets in Israel.”
While users of Cloud services in Israel were excited and exhilarated by the potential for enhanced economic efficiency and improved services to citizens, at Google and Amazon, hundreds of employees of the two tech giants signed a public letter, demanding that the two companies pull out of the Nimbus contract.
Nevertheless, most of the signatories to the letter were anonymous, probably fearing employee monitoring, but they consider themselves “employees of conscience from diverse backgrounds.”
And from the point of view of these signatories is that by providing Cloud services to Israel, Amazon and Google are making it easier for Israel to commit human rights abuses against Palestinians. They voiced concern in the letter that “… This technology allows for further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians, and facilitates expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land.”
Coupled with this concern, the employees believe they “have both the right and the responsibility to speak up when the technology we build is used to harm people, as is the case with the Project Nimbus contract with the Israeli military and government.”
In order to gain more visibility for the issue, the Jewish employees of Google who signed the letter sent it to CEO Sundar Pichai. They also asked him to issue a statement condemning Israeli attacks mentioning “direct recognition of the harm done to Palestinians by the Israeli military and gang violence.” Likewise, the Amazon employees who signed a similar letter, sent it to their senior leadership, including to CEO Jeff Bezos.
Neither Google nor Amazon have issued public statements yet.
Ultimately, these fears are based on the Cloud technology’s ability to offer more efficient and expansive data collection, and the employees’ perception of Israeli institutions as “oppressive,” with tendencies to use Cloud services to harm a community of people.
However, these fears appear to be unfounded, as Israeli customers of Cloud services are predominantly seeking to use the advantages offered by Cloud technology, to improve their services to customers. As Demi Ben-Ari, Co-founder and CTO of Panorays, a third-party security platform, said, “Google Cloud made it easy for us to scale without worrying about DevOps, which meant that our engineers could focus on developing new and better features for our customers.”
Similarly, Yoav Toussia-Cohen, CEO of DoiT International, said, “We are serving hyper growth companies who need Google Cloud’s services and will benefit greatly from this regional presence.”
Almost like a harbinger of a situation to come, back in May when the two tech giants signed the Nimbus contract with Israel, there was a media query whether the two tech giants could at any point shut down services and leave Israel in the lurch. Attorney Zviel Ganz of Israel’s Ministry of Finance and Legal Advisor to the Nimbus Project, said, “According to the tender requirements, the answer is no.” He added that the contract also prevents the two firms from denying services to particular government entities.
As business leader Craig Dresang aptly said, “Perceptions about people can be powerful. They can also be powerfully wrong.”