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Israel-Palestine war: Google staff at vigil for slain Palestinian intern hit out at firm's Israel ties

Mai Ubeid, a software engineer, was killed along with her whole family in an Israeli air strike in Gaza on 31 October
An imam recites a Quranic verse at a vigil for Mai Ubeid in London, England, on 13 December 2023 (MEE/Alex MacDonald)
By Alex MacDonald in London

Google staff protested the firm's involvement in providing technology to Israel during a vigil in London on Wednesday for a Palestinian colleague killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza.

The vigil was in honour of software engineer Mai Ubeid, who was a graduate of the Google-funded coding boot camp, Gaza Sky Geeks, and was in 2020 part of the Google for Startups accelerator programme.

Ubeid was killed on 31 October along with her entire family in a strike on Gaza.

Organised by Google staff and the No Tech For Apartheid campaign outside the firm's offices near King's Cross station, the vigil follows similar events carried out in the US cities of Seattle and New York.

"I think a lot of us came together today to commemorate [Ubeid] and to basically raise awareness and show Google and Amazon's leadership that a lot of us do care about this and stand in solidarity with Palestinians and we will not allow our technology to be used against innocent civilians," said Joseph*, who described himself as an executive at Google London.

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None of those interviewed by Middle East Eye wanted to use their names or official job titles, fearing reprisal.

Employees at Google have long criticised the company's commercial relationships with Israel.

Campaigners speak at the vigil for Mai Ubeid outside Google's offices in London (MEE/Alex MacDonald)
Campaigners speak at the vigil for Mai Ubeid outside Google's offices in London on 13 December 2023 (MEE/Alex MacDonald)

Particular criticism has been levelled at Project Nimbus, a $1.2bn agreement for Google and Amazon to supply Israel and its military with cloud and computing services.

Although Google has in the past stressed that the project only provided "commercial" services for a number of Israeli government ministries, the finance ministry said when announcing the deal that Amazon and Google would be also providing services to "the defense establishment".

The vigil for Ubeid on Wednesday featured prayers from a rabbi and an imam mourning the 18,608 dead in Gaza, as well as the 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals killed in the Hamas-led 7 October attack on southern Israel. 

Google staff at the vigil said they were angered that technology developed by their company could be complicit in Israeli military action and said there was a need for greater oversight of new tech.

"I 100 percent don't think it's ok for the products we are building being used for this and I think we are trying to voice our perspective inside [Google] and sometimes we feel like we're not heard," said Alma, a trust and safety specialist.

"We don't agree with Google products being used to kill civilians or non-civilians, anyone, any human - we're not ok with artificial intelligence being used in war to make life and death decisions," Alma added.

'Pressure' on staff

There have been complaints from staff inside Google since long before the 7 October attack that pro-Palestinian voices were not being tolerated - or even faced abuse - within the company.

Last month, an open letter organised by No Tech For Apartheid warned of "hate, abuse and retaliation" being meted out against Palestinian, Arab and Muslim employees at Google, and accused managers of acting to "question, report, and attempt to get fired Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian Googlers who express sympathy with the plight of the besieged Palestinian people".

'You have to be very careful with what you say in case you get incorrectly labelled as antisemitic, so you have to walk on eggshells'

- Joseph*, Google employee

There was also an outcry last year after another former Google employee, Ariel Koren, accused the company of punishing her by forcing her to transfer to Brazil after she organised employee-led actions against Project Nimbus.

Joseph* said there was a lot of "pressure" at work on those with pro-Palestinian views.

"You have to be very careful with what you say in case you get incorrectly labelled as antisemitic, so you have to walk on eggshells," he told MEE.

"At the same time, I think a lot of us are sick of being silenced."

MEE contacted Google for a response, but they had not replied by the time of publication.

* Name was changed to protect identity

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