The escalating violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has caused a divide among Google employees, leading to a public call out of the company’s silence.
On Tuesday, a group of 250 concerned “Jewish and allied Googlers” released a signed letter penned to CEO Sundar Pichai, demanding the tech behemoth provide relief to Palestinians suffering from the ongoing humanitarian crises that have erupted during the violent conflict between Israel and Hamas, a militant group that doesn’t recognize Israel. It also calls for a company statement that not only acknowledges the violence but includes a “direct recognition of the harm done to Palestinians by the Israeli military and gang violence. Both Israelis and Palestinians are hurting right now, but ignoring the destructive and deadly attacks faced by Palestinians erases our Palestinian coworkers.”
The shattering ripple effects of the conflict have now reached the heart of Silicon Valley, revealing an increasingly polarized divide among Google employees and tech company culture. The signed letter was in response to another Jewish group of employees who allegedly asked Google execs to “support the sovereign state of Israel” and a “one-sided pro-Israel perspective,” according to an FAQ provided by the letter writers. Last month, Israel tapped Google and Amazon Web Services for a $1 billion contract to provide cloud services to the government, including its military.
Tech workers are growing increasingly politically outspoken over ethical concerns about the unprecedented and unchecked power of their companies, with some members of Google’s Alphabet Workers Union contributing to the letter. Other tech companies, like Basecamp, responded to this shift in dynamics by trying to ban politics in the workplace altogether, which led to a mass of employee departures just weeks ago.
The decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine re-erupted in violence this month after Palestinians protested being forcibly evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem, clashing with Israeli military forces. Hamas retaliated with long-range rocket strikes on Israeli towns, setting off cycles of countless airstrikes from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) on Palestinians living in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem followed by more rockets from Hamas. As of Monday evening, 212 Palestinians were killed, including 61 children, while 10 Israelis were killed, including two children, according to the New York Times. Israel has a far more robust defense infrastructure, including the Iron Dome, which can intercept enemy fire.
This new internal political divide at Google sheds a spotlight on a long-standing diversity effort: designated employee resource groups (ERG) intended to celebrate employees with marginalized identities. But in today’s climate, these groups may be sparking more political controversy than Google ever expected. Especially at a time when Congress has a sharp eye on Google, Facebook, Apple, and other tech companies over antitrust concerns.
The letter penned by an unofficial Google group calling themselves the Jewish Diaspora in Tech accuses the official Jewish ERG, known as “Jewglers,” of silencing voices critical of Israel’s current military strategy and historical combative relationship with Palestinians. “We object to the conflation of Israel with the Jewish people,” the Jewish Diaspora in Tech leaders wrote in their letter.
They also ask that Google provide equal support to Palestinian humanitarian relief efforts as it does for Israeli humanitarian efforts. Israel’s airstrikes have destroyed Palestinian medical facilities, sewer systems, schools, water pipes, and a desalination plant that provides fresh water.
Further, the letter emphasizes the need for Google to heed the concerns of its Palestinian employees. Silence on the matter from Google is particularly dangerous, it claims, because it is the 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.”
Lastly, the letter makes one of its boldest demands yet: “the termination of contracts with institutions that support Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, such as the Israeli Defense Forces.”
It’s a push in line with the controversy that partially led employees to unionize in the first place back in January over the discovery of Google’s secret military contracts. According to employees, company leadership failed to disclose they had been working on tech for the U.S. military. The federal government provides billions of dollars to the Israeli military each year.
Mashable reached out to Google, the Jewish Diaspora in Tech group, and the Alphabet Workers Union for further comment on the incident, but did not receive a response in time for publication. We couldn’t find contact information for the Jewgler ERG.
The in-fighting makes it clear that Google’s trademark “don’t be evil” slogan is shedding meaning. And that Big Tech can’t ignore employees who want a say in political decision-making when they’re unafraid to call for more power in the public spotlight.