Anti-Israel Google, Amazon protest accused of ‘astroturf’ BDS campaign

Pro-Israel activists claim letters by ‘Google and Amazon employees of conscience’ was actually organized in collaboration with Jewish Voice for Peace and MPower Change.

 Smartphone with Google and Amazon apps are seen placed on keyboard in this illustration picture taken on June 25, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC/ILLUSTRATION)
Smartphone with Google and Amazon apps are seen placed on keyboard in this illustration picture taken on June 25, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC/ILLUSTRATION)

An “astroturf” campaign by anti-Israel organizations is alleged by pro-Israel activists and independent researchers to be behind public opposition by Google and Amazon employees to their companies’ involvement in Israel’s Nimbus IT infrastructure Project.

On October 12, The Guardian published an anonymous letter ostensibly signed by 390 Google and Amazon employees calling on the companies to reject the Nimbus Project contract and any future business with Israel, which was closely followed by an NBC op-ed and an extensive online campaign, #NoTechForApartheid, launched by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and MPower Change.

However, pro-Israel activists and researchers have asserted that the timing of the #NoTechForApartheid launch and the activist affiliations of Google and Amazon employees involved in the campaign indicate that the letters were not the spontaneous grassroots efforts of concerned employees, but the result of a network of anti-Israel organizations working in concert.

Internet archives show that the #NoTechForApartheid website domain was registered on August 17, almost two months prior to the letter. Critics such as writer and researcher Emily Schrader have asserted that this strongly suggests foreknowledge of The Guardian and NBC letters’ draftings.

Upon launch, 42 organizations had already endorsed the campaign, with another eight signing later. According to experts The Jerusalem Post consulted with, it is unlikely that such a broad coalition of NGOs could be created within less than two days.

BDS MOVEMENT supporters protest outside the Tel Aviv venue of the Eurovision Song Contest final, in May 2019. (credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)BDS MOVEMENT supporters protest outside the Tel Aviv venue of the Eurovision Song Contest final, in May 2019. (credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)

The website was published complete with graphics, content and calls to action.

“On an organized campaign, we can spend days creating the content and then adapt in 15 minutes in real time. A website that’s professional and has powerful [graphics] can take weeks,” said Zina Rakhamilova, COO of Social Lite Creative.

To critics, the close proximity of the publishing of the letters and the launch of the campaign, and the time required to purchase a domain, build a website and create an alliance of NGOs indicates close collaboration between the tech employees and anti-Israel organizations.

“A bunch of ‘anonymous’ Google and Amazon employees are apparently moved to publish a letter denouncing Project Nimbus,” said David Lange, executive director of Israellycool Israel Advocacy. “Right after the letter, anti-Israel organizations promote a website whose domain name was registered two months earlier, and is already full of information on the subject of the letter. There is no doubt this was not an act of conscience by employees moved to speak out, but, rather, an orchestrated, manipulative campaign by organizations dedicated to destroying the Jewish state. I would not be surprised if only a handful of actual employees ‘signed on’ to this fraudulent letter, which is the real reason the signatories were conveniently anonymous.”

IN RESPONSE to accusations of collaboration, JVP said in a tweet, “Of course we’re in touch with them – we literally launched a campaign to support them.”

Investigative journalist and researcher David Collier has argued on his website that it was in support of JVP-affiliated activists, as “only three workers, all known activists, put their names” to the Google and Amazon employees’ letters.

Ariel Koren, a Google employee who revealed her involvement on MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin Reports, and Gabriel Schubiner, software engineer and researcher at Google and one of the authors of the NBC letter, are both organizers of the group Jewish Diaspora for Tech. Koren and Bathool Syed, the other writer of the op-ed, used the website URL or campaign hashtag in their personal social media in close timing with the campaign launch.

Jewish Diaspora for Tech is one of the endorsing organizations for #NoTechForAparthied. According to her biography on the website for Respond: Crisis Translation, Koren is one of the cocreators of the group. Schubiner is credited as a JDT organizer in several articles on a similar campaign in May, when JDT chastised Google for previous dealings with Israel.

 Like the recent Guardian letter, the previous petition also withheld names of signatories.

“The website doesn’t even list the names of the signatories, and which of them actually work for these companies,” noted Rakhamilova.

“Given their lack of transparency, we can’t definitively comment on the authenticity of the campaign. But the notion that it’s grassroots stretches credulity,” said CAMERA’s director of communications Jonah Cohen. “Just look at the organizations who’ve ‘endorsed’ the website – they’re well-funded anti-Israel propaganda groups. Executives at Google and Amazon ought to raise a skeptical eyebrow at the whole thing.”

Project Nimbus – the Israel IT tech project protested by the #NoTechForApartheid campaign – was awarded to Google and Amazon in April, winning a fierce competition for the project’s contract over Microsoft, Oracle and IBM.

The Nimbus Project is intended to provide cloud services for the Israeli government, the national defense system, and other bodies in the Israeli economy without sending data for storage overseas, which is a cybersecurity risk.

Jewish Voice for Peace is an anti-Zionist progressive Jewish organization that promotes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement.

MPower Change is a Muslim digital advocacy organization co-founded by Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour.

Benzi Gad and Zev Stub contributed to this report.