Activists shut down a portion of Howard Street in San Francisco outside the Google Cloud Next Conference, Aug. 29, 2023. (Photo/SF Standard-Joel Umanzor)
Activists shut down a portion of Howard Street in San Francisco outside the Google Cloud Next Conference, Aug. 29, 2023. (Photo/SF Standard-Joel Umanzor)

Anti-Zionist groups hold protest outside Google conference in S.F.

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Updated on Sept. 12 at 1:30 p.m.

Protesters demonstrated outside San Francisco’s Moscone Center on Tuesday to express their anger over Google’s contract to provide cloud-computing services to the Israeli government.

The protesters — who targeted the three-day Google Cloud Next conference, which started Tuesday and will end Thursday at the downtown convention center — decried Google’s participation in what’s known as Project Nimbus, an Israeli government initiative to streamline and improve its technology across multiple ministries, including national defense.

“Google’s technology isn’t being used to inspire and innovate,” the organizers wrote on a website announcing the protest. “To the contrary, it is fueling Israel’s security apparatus.” They further alleged the technology is “enabling and entrenching apartheid.”

Anti-Zionist groups spearheaded the event, including the S.F.-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Palestinian Youth Movement Bay Area and Jewish Voice for Peace Bay Area. All three support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. The Los Angeles Times reported “hundreds” of protesters were in attendance, but that figure could not be independently verified. Photos of the event appeared to show about 100 people in the streets.

Dozens chained themselves together on Howard Street, the Times reported. Protesters also unfurled a banner that read “Google Project Nimbus fuels Israeli apartheid.”

Project Nimbus is a $1.2 billion contract shared between Google and Amazon Web Services through which Israel’s data will ultimately be transferred into six cloud-based storage centers in the coming years. The project is already underway.

Protestors block Howard Street to protest Google's Project Nimbus Contract with the Israeli government on Aug. 29, 2023. (Photo/SF Standard-Joel Umanzor)
Protestors block Howard Street to protest Google’s Project Nimbus contract with the Israeli government on Aug. 29, 2023. (Photo/SF Standard-Joel Umanzor)

One of the protest organizers was Ariel Koren, a former Google worker who resigned last year, citing what she said was retaliation for activism against the project. Koren, who is Jewish, told J. in 2021 that her identity led her to take a stand on Project Nimbus.

“For me as a Jewish employee of Google, I feel a deep sense of intense moral responsibility,” she said at the time. “When you work in a company, you have the right to be accountable and responsible for the way that your labor is actually being used.”

This wasn’t the first time that Bay Area people have protested the Project Nimbus contract. In September 2022, dozens of people protested outside of Google’s San Francisco offices, then marched to Amazon’s offices.

Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Atle Erlingsson, a Google Cloud spokesperson, told tech magazine Wired last year that Google provides technology to many governments across the world, including Israel’s, and that demonstrators were misrepresenting the project.

“Our work is not directed at highly sensitive or classified military workloads,” he told the magazine in an email. Erlingsson acknowledged that Israel’s military would have access to the technology.

Updated: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported a total of 30 protesters at the event, a number that reflected only those who had chained themselves together. Subsequent visual inspections of the crowd indicate an additional 100 or so protesters and onlookers were present.