• Washington Post

Employees Keep Up Pressure on Big Tech to Drop Deal with Israel

REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Relatives and supporters of hostages kidnapped on the deadly October 7 attack by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, rally for their release, after a temporary truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas expired, in Tel Aviv, Israel, December 2, 2023.

More than 100 Amazon employees in 20 cities gathered to eat knafeh and observe International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, but in two offices, the event was interrupted by fliers that said “KIDNAPPED” above photos of Israeli hostages.

Employees attending Wednesday’s celebration “felt like they were being intimidated,” said an employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his job.

The incident followed weeks of rising tension between members of Amazon’s Arab employee resource group, who have been pushing the company to drop a cloud computing contract with Israel and express support for Palestinian employees, and staffers in Tel Aviv and those who support Israel.

When Israel began bombing Gaza more than seven weeks ago, a two-year-old campaign against Google and Amazon’s contract with the Israeli government was reinvigorated. On Friday, more than 1,700 Amazon employees presented CEO Andy Jassy with a petition calling for the company to “rescind all contracts with the Israeli military and call for an immediate, durable, and sustained cease-fire.” While that’s a small fraction of Amazon’s total workforce of more than 1 million, employees say the pro-Palestine momentum in corporate America is a significant shift in the face of the U.S. tech industry’s strong business ties to Israel. It reflects a broader trend among Americans, who have increasingly called for President Biden to put an end to the violence in Gaza.

“I’ve been seeing a lot more solidarity and sympathy even among people who are not traditionally political,” said the Amazon employee.

On Thanksgiving, Jassy wrote an email to employees in which he acknowledged for the first time both “lost lives in Israel and Palestine.”

“It’s troubling to see hate spreading around the world the way it has the last several weeks,” the message seen by The Washington Post said. “Nothing good can come of the hate that we are witnessing.”

Some of that hate is popping up within Amazon’s ranks. An Amazon employee in London shared photos of office elevators with “Free Palestine” written on them. Another employee said they received messages saying Israel would only stop bombing Gaza when the hostages were returned, according to screenshots seen by The Post.And a third employee wrote in a post to the Jewish affinity Slack channel seen by The Post that most of Gaza’s residents “support terror” and that “no peace is possible with such animals.”

“There’s such tension between Arabs and Jewish employees right now,” one employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their job told The Post. “That’s very palpable.”

Amazon has hundreds of employees in Tel Aviv, some of whom have been called up to fight with the Israel Defense Forces in the past few months, which is adding to the tension among employees.

“We don’t tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind in the workplace,” Amazon spokesman Rob Munoz wrote in an email statement. “We investigate all reported incidents of such behavior and take appropriate action against any employee who is found to have violated our policies, up to and including termination.”

(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. Interim CEO Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.)

Amazon and Google jointly won Israel’s Project Nimbus cloud computing contract in April 2021. In October of that year, employees from both companies participating in a campaign called No Tech for Apartheid, wrote in a public letter that the contract “was signed the same week that the Israeli military attacked Palestinians in the Gaza Strip – killing nearly 250 people, including more than 60 children” and in fear that the “technology our companies have contracted to build will make the systematic discrimination and displacement carried out by the Israeli military and government even crueler and deadlier for Palestinians.”

At the time, 300 Amazon employees signed the anti-Nimbus letter. Two years later, that number has grown more than five times.

“Last time it took a week,” said an employee involved in organizing the No Tech For Apartheid campaign who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their job. “This literally took overnight.”

Staffers who oppose the Nimbus deal have also been trying to figure out exactly what the project is. A news release from 2023 suggests the cloud computing contract does include the Israel Defense Forces, the same military forces that have been bombing Gaza, The Intercept reported.

But the contract is secret, and employees said they still don’t know exactly what they’re contributing to. Google previously declined to comment on the contract.

In the petition signed by 1,700 Amazon employees, they say that “by providing a cloud ecosystem for the Israeli public sector, Amazon is bolstering the artificial intelligence and surveillance capabilities of the Israeli military used to repress Palestinian activists and impose a brutal siege on Gaza.”

Regarding the petition, Amazon spokesperson Munoz said the company “is focused on making the benefits of our world-leading cloud technology available to all our customers, wherever they are located.”

Much of the organizing against Nimbus at Amazon has taken place in a Slack channel for Arab employees. As support for their cause has mounted, those employees say harassment from co-workers who disagree with them has increased.

Despite this, employees came together in less than a week to organize the solidarity day event, which included videos from Palestinian employees talking about their families and the meaning of freedom. But tensions spilled over with the fliers, and also one employee tried to record the event on their phone and argue with the employees attending the event.

For now, the Arab employees said they will continue to demand more information about the cloud contract and assurances it isn’t being used for military purposes.

“That’s been the main issue the whole time,” said the Amazon employee. “How opaque they’ve been on what exactly the contract entails.”