Pro-Palestinian Protesters, AI, and Eric Adams: What I Saw at the ‘Stand With Israeli Tech’ Conference Before They Kicked Me Out

MindTheTech, a well-funded conference in Midtown focused on supporting the Israeli tech industry, was marred by pro-Palestinian protesters Monday morning, who were promptly kicked out of the event. went.

Moments after I tweeted videos of the disruptions, I too was kicked out without explanation.

The conference, which boasted high-profile speakers such as Mayor Eric Adams, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Sher, former NSA Director Michael Rogers, and Google Israel Managing Director Barak Regio, had the stated goal of promoting Israel’s tech Power should be displayed. But it also highlighted the lack of political consensus among tech workers who help build the tools used by the Israeli government. This fact is particularly evident after the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and the subsequent Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which as of March 4 has killed more than 30,000 people.

A Google Cloud engineer who disrupted the conference, and asked to remain anonymous to avoid professional repercussions, said he considered his actions ethically and professionally necessary.

“I don’t see any way to continue engineering without doing that,” he told Hellgate. “I see it as part of my engineering job, and I hope other engineers within the cloud see me doing it, and I hope it inspires them.”

The event’s opening speaker was Yvonne Astron, publisher of Calculus, a tech publication that was sponsoring the conference.

Astron noted that the theme of the conference was “Stand with Israeli Tech” because investment in Israeli tech companies has slowed since October 7, along with much of the Israeli economy.

“Standing with Israel because of our flexibility, because it’s a smart business decision,” Astron said.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, also expressed his views. He criticized UN member states for not unanimously supporting Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

“This is what the United Nations has become, a weapon in the hands of jihadists,” Jordan said. One-third of the UN member states are “Muslim countries,” he added, to the murmur of the audience.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Sher spoke next. Sher interrupted his remarks to address Mayor Adams as he entered mid-speech. “My dear Eric, I would like to thank you very much for everything you do for Israel,” he said.

Since October 7, Adams has expressed unconditional support for Israel and its military campaign in Gaza, and has visited the country at least twice—once as Brooklyn borough president in 2014. On and again last summer as mayor.

In his comments, Adams thanked Sher for hosting him when he visited Jerusalem last August. Adams also repeated his line that “New York is America’s Tel Aviv.”

He told a long story about the time (it’s not clear exactly when) he hitched a hay bale to a motorcycle to take it to his family’s ranch in Alabama.

“I realized something: I learned it from Cambodia!” Adams said. “I don’t know if I was around people who look like me, talk like me, walk like me, do the same things.”

After Adams left, I sat down for a presentation by Google Israel Managing Director Barak Regiu. He opened with a slide titled “Empower Startup Nation Resilience and Growth with AI.”

Five minutes into the speech, Reggio was interrupted by the aforementioned software engineer.

“I’m a Google software engineer and I refuse to build technology that powers genocide or surveillance!” he shouted to laughter from the crowd. He then cited Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion cloud computing project between Google, Amazon and the Israeli government, including the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Documents obtained by The Intercept show that the computing capabilities of Project Nimbus could be used in the service of surveillance, particularly an essential aspect of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

“Project Nimbus endangers members of the Palestinian community! I refuse to build technology that is used for cloud apartheid,” he cried. “No Tech for Racism! Stop the Genocide!”

The engineer was immediately grabbed by a security guard in a dark blue suit and dragged outside.

“Part of the privilege of working at a company that represents democratic values ​​is to accommodate different opinions and different comments,” Reggio said after the engineer was fired. “And my apologies and my apologies to you for having to experience this as part of our internal complexity at Google, but it’s part of reality.”

About a minute later, another protester intervened. I later learned that her name was Alana, and that she was the organizer of the anti-Zionist Israeli groups Shuresh and Jewish Voices for Peace.

“Google is complicit in genocide!” he shouted. Moments later, a nearby woman pushed Alana and she fell to the ground.

“Go support terrorism somewhere else!” A man screamed, as two security guards pulled him out. The crowd cheered for Reggio.

“I want to thank you for your attendance and listening, and apologize for the interruption,” Reggio said before exiting the stage.

The obstacles at the conference were organized primarily. No take for racism., a national campaign involving tech workers, mostly employed by Google or Amazon. Project Nimbus is one of the main focuses of the campaign. Peer did not previously represent the No Tech for Apartheid action. In 2021, a group of about 400 anonymous Google and Amazon employees published an open letter in the Guardian expressing opposition to Project Nimbus, in the wake of a deadly wave of Israeli bombing and killings in Gaza that year, mostly peaceful. In response to the protest. Israeli occupation.

The Google Cloud software engineer told Hellgate that he hopes his process can show how engineers can “engage with the communities that are affected by their technology.”

“Software, by its very nature, allows a great deal of separation between the people who affect the technology and the people it affects,” he said. “So I think it’s just, I just want my other Google Cloud engineers to know that this is what engineering looks like — standing in solidarity with the communities that are impacted by your work.”

Zelda Montes, a YouTube software engineer, held a banner outside the conference building. He said he spent most of Sunday with about 10 others making banners and art for Monday’s action. Montes had wrapped it up when I got out, and there were only a handful of people left. But he said about 40 people had gathered as two protesters broke up the event inside. Among them were organizers of MP Power Change, Al-Awda, American Muslims for Palestine NJ, Palestinian Youth Movement, NYC City Workers for Palestine, and Salaam.

Montes told Hellgate that he hopes Monday’s action can inspire tech workers, particularly Google tech workers, to act rather than accept the status quo.

“We don’t have to live with genocide — it’s not something we have to acknowledge,” Montes said. “And we definitely have more worker power than I think people realize.”

After Reggio’s presentation, I walked out of the conference hall, where hundreds of attendees were mingling. I put on my headphones and tweeted a video of the first protestors to intervene in Reggio. As I began to draft my tweet about the other protesters, a security guard in a gray suit approached me.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I’m a freelance reporter,” I replied, showing my conference badge. This was apparently the wrong answer.

“I need you to leave,” she said.

“Why?” I asked. He repeated that I needed to go. We went back and forth like this maybe twice.

In a race of mind, I said that I had left my bag, laptop, and coat in the conference hall, hoping to save my seat. At first it looked like he would let me have them. But at the door to the conference hall, I asked again why I was being asked to leave and pulled out my phone to record it.

A switch was flipped. The security guard took my phone from my hand. “Hey, you can’t take it!” I said quickly grabbing it back. He then grabbed both of my arms, brought them behind my back, and started pushing me out of the conference hall from behind.

“Hey what are you doing?” I screamed. “Bye!” People sneered from all sides. Before pushing me out the door, the security guard reached for my conference pass lanyard. As he jerked it off, it got stuck in the Bose headphones hanging around my neck. Finally he shooed me out the door.

I asked a few security guards (including the one who kicked me out) why I was being forced out, and when I would get my stuff back: a bag with my laptop inside, a coat, a water bottle. bottle, and a coffee canteen.

“You can wait for your luggage here, and you can wait for the NYPD,” said the security guard who held me up. It was a bluff. There were a few NYPD officers outside the building, but they mostly wandered aimlessly and chatted among themselves. Twenty minutes after I was kicked out, they returned my possessions.

I asked the administrator who issued my media credentials, Aviv Raz, why I was kicked out. As of publication time, I have not heard back.

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