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How US Big Tech supports Israel’s AI-powered genocide and apartheid



How US Big Tech supports Israel’s AI-powered genocide and apartheid

Shortly after the October 7 attacks on Israel, Google CEO Sundar Pichai issued a statement on social media, extending sympathy to Israelis without mentioning the Palestinians. Other tech executives – including from Meta, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM – offered their gushing support for Israel as well.

Since then, they have remained largely silent as the Israeli army has massacred close to 35,000 Palestinians, including more than 14,500 children, destroyed hundreds of schools and all universities and devastated Palestinian homes, healthcare infrastructure, mosques and heritage sites.

To execute this shocking level of destruction, the Israeli military has been assisted by artificial intelligence (AI) programs designed to produce targets with little human oversight. It is not clear to what extent foreign tech giants are directly involved in these projects, but we can say with certainty that they supply much of the core infrastructure required to build them, including advanced computer chips, software and cloud computing.

Amid this AI-assisted genocide, Big Tech in the United States is quietly continuing business as usual with Israel. Intel has announced a $25bn investment in a chip plant located in Israel, while Microsoft has launched a new Azure cloud region in the country.

None of this should come as a surprise. For decades, Silicon Valley has been supporting the Israeli apartheid regime, supplying the advanced technology and investment needed to power its economy and occupy Palestine.

Just as they did in 20th-century South Africa, today’s largest US-based technology corporations see an opportunity to profit from Israeli apartheid – a by-product of US-driven digital colonialism.

AI-assisted genocide

Big Tech has been complicit in Israel’s occupation, dispossession and abuse of Palestinians in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most well-known one is its support for pervasive Israeli surveillance of the occupied Indigenous population.

In March 2021, Google, along with Amazon, signed a $1.2bn contract for cloud computing services for the Israeli government and defence establishment. The two companies provide Israel with the capacity to store, process and analyse data, including facial recognition, emotion recognition, biometrics and demographic information in what is known as Project Nimbus.

The deal received considerable attention in the mainstream media after Google and Amazon workers demanded an end to the contract by launching the campaign No Tech for Apartheid. Anticipating this response, Google and Amazon signed a contract with Israel guaranteeing the continuation of services in the event of a boycott campaign. To date, they have held firm and continue to supply Israel with cloud computing services.

Details around Nimbus are concealed from the public, but Google employees have raised fears that it may be servicing Israel’s AI-infused military massacres. These concerns were amplified by reports that the Israeli army is using a new AI-powered system, such as “Lavender” and “The Gospel” to decide on targets for its bombardment of Gaza. According to one former Israeli intelligence official, The Gospel facilitates a “mass assassination factory” where “emphasis is on quantity, not quality”.

Meanwhile, recent reports have revealed that Google is working directly with the Israeli Ministry of Defense, despite the ongoing genocide. The company also allows Israeli forces to use its Google Photos facial recognition service to scan the faces of Palestinians across Gaza for its dystopian “hit list”.

Silicon Valley and apartheid surveillance

Yet AI-assisted genocide is just the tip of the iceberg. For decades, American tech corporations and investors have been quietly aiding and abetting Israel’s system of digital apartheid. One of the most egregious examples is IBM, which was also the major supplier of computers for the South African apartheid regime’s national population registry and the upgraded passport system used to sort people by race and enforce segregation.

According to Who Profits, an independent research centre dedicated to exposing commercial involvement in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Syrian land and population, “IBM designed and operates the Eitan System of the Israeli Population, Immigration and Border Authority [PIBA]… where personal information on the occupied Palestinian and Syrian people collected by Israel, is stored and managed.” The system contains information collected through Israel’s national population database and at the border and major checkpoints.

PIBA is also a part of Israel’s permit system which requires Palestinians over the age of 16 to carry “smart” cards, containing their photograph, address, fingerprints and other biometric identifiers. Much like in apartheid South Africa’s passport system, the cards double as permits which determine Palestinian rights to cross through Israeli checkpoints for any purpose, including work, family reunification, religious rituals or travelling abroad.

Microsoft for its part has supplied cloud computing space for the Israeli army’s “Almunasseq” app used for issuing permits to Palestinians in the occupied territories. In the past, it also held a stake in surveillance firm AnyVision (renamed Oosto) which provides real-time facial recognition services to Israeli authorities. Other companies, such as Hewlett Packard, Cisco and Dell, supply technology to service Israeli military and carceral authorities.

Building Israel’s tech superiority

Apart from assisting the Israeli surveillance apparatus, Silicon Valley also provides critical support to the Israeli business sector, helping it maintain and develop a high-tech modern economy.

For example, Amazon, Google and Microsoft have all launched major cloud computing centres in Israel, offering businesses infrastructure critical to data-driven products and services. Intel is the largest private employer in the country, having commenced operations in 1974.

Along with hundreds of other multinationals, Microsoft hosts its own research and development (R&D) centre in Israel, and it launched a chip development centre in Haifa. Nvidia, the trillion-dollar chip behemoth powering the AI revolution, has also announced it is expanding its already large R&D operations in Israel. The list goes on.

Venture capitalists are also critical to growing Israel’s local tech sector, which houses 10 percent of the world’s unicorns (companies worth at least $1bn), accounts for 14 percent of jobs and generates about 20 percent of the country’s GDP. Since 2019, $32bn has been invested in Israeli companies, with 51 percent led or co-led by US-based investors.

Social media companies have also lent a helping hand to Israeli apartheid and occupation. In 2022, an outside report commissioned by Meta found that Facebook and Instagram’s speech policies showed bias against Palestinians. These longstanding practices of blatant censorship against Palestinians are continuing into the present.

In December, Human Rights Watch reported that Meta continues to crack down on pro-Palestinian posts on Facebook and Instagram. Of 1,050 cases reviewed, 1,049 involved peaceful content supportive of Palestine that was censored or suppressed – despite allowing a substantial amount of pro-Palestine content – and one removal in support of Israel. The company is even considering censoring the word “Zionist”.

Other organisations stand accused of censoring pro-Palestine voices, including X (formerly Twitter), YouTube and even China-owned TikTok. Western governments, including the US and the European Union, have been pressuring Big Social Media companies to review and censor content deemed “terrorist” or supportive of Palestine.

Big Tech censorship extends beyond everyday users. Political organisations like Hamas are banned by Big Social Media giants. Meanwhile, the Israeli military, government and other organs of Israeli state terror post freely, with widespread support.

Digital colonialism

It is no surprise that US-based Big Tech companies are partnering with and investing in Israel, supporting its genocidal and apartheid activities.

Big Tech corporations are modern-day East India companies; they are an extension of American imperial power. They colonise the global digital economy and reinforce the divide between the North and the South. As a result, the US profits from the ownership of digital infrastructure and knowledge and the extraction of resources from the Global South.

Digital colonialism is hardwired into Big Tech’s DNA. Its close relationship with the Israeli army is not only lucrative, but it serves the broader geopolitical interests of the American Empire, from which it benefits.

Tech corporations’s support for Israel exposes their fake image as companies espousing antiracism and human rights. In reality, they are complicit in Israeli crimes, much like other organs of American imperialism. What we are witnessing is US-Israeli apartheid, colonial conquest and genocide, powered by American tech giants.

But just as the US and other Western governments are feeling the heat of legal action taken against them for the role they are playing in the genocide in Gaza, so are Western companies. US tech giants bear clear responsibility for what is happening in Palestine. They are on the wrong side of history, just as they were in apartheid South Africa. With enough popular pressure, Big Tech collaborators will find their day in court soon.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

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