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

"I'm a Google software engineer and I refuse to build technology that powers genocide or surveillance!"

Eric Adams speaks at the Israeli Tech conference.

(Caroline Haskins / Hell Gate)

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

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

The conference, which boasted high-profile speakers like Mayor Eric Adams, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, former NSA director Michael Rogers, and Google Israel managing director Barak Regev, had a stated goal of showcasing Israeli tech might. But it also underscored the lack of political consensus among tech workers who help build tools used by the Israeli government. This reality is especially stark after the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 and the subsequent Israeli bombardment of Gaza, which has killed more than 30,000 people as of March 4. 

A Google Cloud engineer who disrupted the conference, and asked to remain anonymous in order to avoid professional repercussions, said that he considered their actions to be morally and professionally necessary.

"I don't see any way forward to continue my engineering work without doing this," he told Hell Gate. "I consider this a part of my engineering work, and I hope other engineers within Cloud see me do this, and I hope that it galvanizes them."

The event's opening speaker was Yoav Esteron, the publisher of Calcalist, a tech publication that was sponsoring the conference. 

Esteron noted that the theme of the conference was "Stand With Israeli Tech" because investments in Israeli tech companies have slowed since October 7, along with most of the Israeli economy.

"Stand with Israel because of our resilience, because it's a smart business decision," Esteron said.

Gilad Erdan, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, also delivered remarks. He criticized the UN member nations for not unanimously supporting Israel's military campaign in Gaza.

"That is what the UN has become, a weapon in the hands of jihadists," Erdan said. He added that one third of the UN member nations are "Muslim countries," eliciting murmurs from the audience. 

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion spoke next. Lion paused his remarks to address Mayor Adams when 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 he has visited the country at least twice—once in 2014 as Brooklyn Borough President and again this past summer as mayor.

In his remarks, Adams thanked Lion for hosting him in Jerusalem when he visited last August. Adams also repeated his line that "New York is the Tel Aviv of America."

He went on to tell a lengthy anecdote about a time (it's unclear exactly when) he hooked up a bale of hay to a motorcycle to move it across his family's farm in Alabama. 

"I realized something: I learned that from Cambodia!" Adams said. "I would have not known that if I was around those who looked like me, talked like me, walked like me, did the same things." 

After Adams left, I stayed seated for the presentation by Google Israel managing director Barak Regev. He began with a slide entitled "Empower Startup Nation Resilience and Growth with AI."

Five minutes into the speech, Regev 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 boos and jeers from the crowd. He then referred to 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 computing capabilities in Project Nimbus can be used in service of surveillance, an integral aspect of Israel's occupation of the West Bank in particular. 

"Project Nimbus puts Palestinian community members in danger! I refuse to build technology that is gonna be used for cloud apartheid," he cried. "No tech for apartheid! Stop the genocide!"

The engineer was promptly grabbed by a security guard in a dark blue suit and dragged out.

"Part of the privilege of working in a company that's representative of democratic values is giving space for different opinions and different remarks," Regev said, after the engineer was removed. "And my forgiveness and I'm sorry for you at having to experience that as a part of our internal complexity at Google, but this is part of the reality."

About a minute later, another protester interrupted. I learned later that her name was Ilana, and that she's an organizer with the anti-Zionist Israeli group Shoresh and Jewish Voices for Peace.

"Google is complicit in genocide!" she shouted. Moments later, a nearby woman shoved Ilana and she hit the ground.

"Go support terrorism somewhere else!" one man yelled, as two security guards pulled her out. The crowd applauded for Regev.

"I wanna thank you for your attendance and for your listening, and sorry for the disruption," Regev said, before exiting the stage.

The disruptions at the conference were primarily organized by No Tech for Apartheid, a national campaign comprised of tech workers, mostly employed by Google or Amazon. Project Nimbus is one of the main focuses of the campaign. Monday did not represent the first No Tech for Apartheid action. In 2021, a group of almost 400 anonymous Google and Amazon employees published an open letter voicing their opposition to Project Nimbus in the Guardian, in the wake of a deadly wave of Israeli bombings and killings in Gaza that year in response to mostly peaceful protests against the Israeli occupation.

The Google Cloud software engineer told Hell Gate he hopes his action can show how engineers can be "in dialogue with the communities that are affected by their technology."

"Software, just by its nature, allows for a lot of separation between people that make the technology and people affected by it," he said. "So I think this is just, I just want my other Google Cloud engineers to know that this is what engineering looks like—is standing in solidarity with the communities affected by your work."

Zelda Montes, a software engineer for YouTube, was holding a banner outside the conference building. They said they spent most of Sunday making banners and art for Monday's action, along with about 10 others. Montes had rolled it up by the time I got outside, and only a handful of people remained. But they said about 40 people had gathered as the two protesters disrupted the event inside. They included organizers from MPower Change, Al-Awda, American Muslims for Palestine NJ, the Palestinian Youth Movement, NYC City Workers for Palestine, and SALAM. 

Montes told Hell Gate that they hope Monday's action can inspire tech workers, especially Google tech workers, to act rather than accepting the status quo as a given. 

"We don't have to live with genocide whatsoever—that's not something that we have to concede to," Montes said. "And we definitely have more worker power than I think people realize."

After Regev's presentation, I walked outside the conference hall, where hundreds of attendees were mingling. I put on my headphones and tweeted a video of the first protester interrupting Regev. As I began drafting my tweet about the second protester, a security guard in a gray suit came up to me.

"Who are you?" he asked. 

"I'm a freelance reporter," I replied, showing my conference badge. This was seemingly the wrong answer.

"I'm going to need you to leave," he said. 

"Why?" I asked. He reiterated that I needed to leave. We went back and forth like this maybe twice.

Mind racing, I said that I had left my backpack, laptop, and coat in the conference hall, hoping to save my seat. At first, it seemed like he was going to let me get them. But at the conference hall door, I asked again why I was being asked to leave and took out my phone to record him. 

A switch flipped. The security guard grabbed my phone out of my hands. "Hey, you can't take that!" I said, quickly snatching it back. He then clutched 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 yelled. "Bye!" people jeered from all directions. Before pushing me out the door, the security guard reached for my conference pass lanyard. As he yanked it off, it got caught in the Bose headphones hanging around my neck. He finally shoved me out the door.

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

"You can wait for your stuff, here, and you can wait for the NYPD too," the security guard who had grabbed me said. This was a bluff. There were a few NYPD officers outside the building, but they mostly wandered aimlessly and talked amongst themselves. Twenty minutes after I was ejected, they returned my possessions.

I asked the organizer who issued my media credentials, Aviv Raz, why I was kicked out. As of the time of publication, I haven't heard back.

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