Durham was one of four cities — along with Seattle, San Francisco and New York City — to hold rallies Thursday against Google and Amazon’s cloud computing partnership with the Israeli government.
Thursday’s protest took place outside Google’s downtown Durham office building and featured a mix of Google employees and anti-Zionist advocates from local organizations. They numbered around 30, with about a dozen pro-Israel counter-protesters also on site.
The rally was part of a broader No Tech for Apartheid movement that aims to get Google and Amazon Web Services to cancel the $1.2 billion technology agreement the companies made in 2021 to supply Israel with artificial intelligence and computing services.
Google workers in Durham argued this partnership, named Project Nimbus, could be used to surveil and punish Palestinians.
“I think this is a very good example of Google compromising its principles to make a quick buck,” said Bjorn Pedersen, a software engineer who works in the Google Cloud division. “That’s not what I want to be a part of.”
Pedersen was one of several Google workers wearing red Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) T-shirts. Alphabet is the parent company of Google, and the AWU was formed last year as an advocacy organization (without collective bargaining rights) for Google employees.
AWU was one of several local groups organizing the rally, along with Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine and the Triangle chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Nationally, the No Tech for Apartheid rallies were coordinated by the Muslim advocacy group MPower Change and Jewish Voice for Peace, an anti-Zionist group that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Google’s growing presence in Durham
Counter-protesters stood in the back holding signs in support of Google and Israeli policies. Several shook their heads as protesters spoke and chanted over a megaphone.
“We were very disturbed to hear about this protest against Israel and the accusations of apartheid,” said Marcia Harris, a retiree in Raleigh who was there representing two pro-Zionist groups, the North Carolina Coalition for Israel and Voice4Israel North Carolina. Zionism is an ideology that supports preserving Israel as a Jewish nation.
In a statement, Google said the company is unwavering in its partnership with Israel.
“Google Cloud is proud to support numerous governments around the world in countries where we operate, including the Israeli government, with our generally available cloud computing services,” said Google spokesperson Atle Erlingsson in an email to The News & Observer. “This protest group may have its own views about Israel, but that doesn’t impact our work on this contract.”
Durham’s participation in the multi-city rally reflects Google’s growing presence in the Bull City. The building where the protest occurred opened earlier this year.
In 2021, Google announced the company expects to hire 1,000 workers locally in the coming years as part of a national expansion. New Triangle-area jobs openings are consistently posted on sites like LinkedIn. Google told The N&O in 2021 that it expects to reach 500 local employees by 2023.
This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.
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This story was originally published September 8, 2022 7:58 PM.
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