Repression of Gaza war protests intensifies: Arrests at Yale, firings at Google
Protesters occupy the intersection of Prospect and Grove in New Haven on Monday. | Renee Kraemer / People's World

NEW HAVEN, Conn. and NEW YORK CITY—Rising tensions over U.S. support for Israel’s war on Gaza continued on April 22, with 47 students being arrested by Yale University police in New Haven, Conn., after a peaceful sit-in there and with Google firing 50 workers, most of them from its Manhattan offices, who peacefully sat in against the firm’s big tech contract with the Israeli armed forces.

Those events, combined with continuing protests at Columbia University and NYU in New York City, show increasing popular opposition not just to the war itself but to U.S. backing for what many international organizations have designated as genocide against Gazan civilians.

The protesters at Yale, NYU, and Columbia staunchly oppose U.S. financial and military support for the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu. They point to the billions of dollars worth of U.S. bombs, ammo, and fighter jets which the Democratic Biden administration has sold to the Israeli military. Students and faculty are also demanding that their institutions divest from any investments in companies and institutions active in the Israeli occupation and genocide in Palestine.

Google workers pinpoint the high-tech systems their employer supplies to Israel for Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion defense contract. Aided by Nimbus, the Israeli military has killed over 34,000 Gazan civilians and counting, created a million refugees jammed into the southern sector of Gaza in and around the Rafah entry point from Egypt, destroyed Gaza’s infrastructure, and produced a humanitarian catastrophe, notably increasing famine.

Yale students demand divestment

The Seder table set up by New Haven Jewish Voice for Peace at the demonstration. | Renee Kraemer / People’s World

In a telephone interview with People’s World, two Yale protesters, who asked not to be named to avoid university retribution, explained that 200-300 peaceful demonstrators started with an encampment in Beinecke Plaza beginning round-the-clock on April 19 and lasting through the morning of the 22nd.

The Yale protesters demanded the university disclose its investment portfolio “and then divest from companies engaged in military production,” as one of the two put it.

“But the university was unwilling to entertain disclosure—and we can’t discuss divestment unless we know what they’re talking about,” the protester said. Yale police arrested 60 people, but then let the 13 non-Yale students go. The rest were charged with misdemeanor trespassing and released on their own recognizance.

Before the 19th, the students demonstrated only during daylight hours. They “are in solidarity” with the students protesting in New York, the other Yale protester told People’s World. The pro-Palestinian demonstrations at Columbia and NYU have been met with harsh repression by campus security and police.

After being evicted from the plaza, the Yale students traveled around the Schwartzman Building to the intersection of Prospect and Grove in New Haven, where they remained sitting down until 5 p.m. when their protest permit expired. Some then adjourned to a seder for the first night of Passover, elsewhere.

No Tech for Apartheid

Meanwhile, at Google headquarters in midtown Manhattan and its CEO’s offices in Sunnyvale, Calif., the high-tech workers and engineers who protested the use of Nimbus were fired, in two contingents. Nine were also arrested, according to organizers for the sponsoring group, No Tech for Apartheid.

Nimbus “involves Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services providing cloud computing and artificial intelligence services for the Israeli government and military,” Information Age explained.

Others who did not even enter the one Google room in Manhattan where the larger group sat in quietly for nine hours were fired just for showing up briefly and expressing their solidarity with the Palestinians and against the Israeli use of Nimbus.

The firings were by e-mail, and then their in-house Google accounts were cut off. The workers, who also kept their full identities secret—using only first names or pseudonyms—told a Zoom press conference what happened.

Google workers protest the company’s contract with the Israeli government. | Photo via No Tech for Apartheid

“We were taken down in the cargo elevator in secret by the New York Police Department,” said one who was taken out of the Manhattan office. “Then they threw my belongings, though not all of them, at me. When I returned to Precinct 10 the next day to get the rest of my belongings, the lieutenant said ‘Get the fuck out.’”

“We chose to participate in this peaceful protest because we filed” internal protests, which were ignored “against fear-mongering tactics” directed at critics of Google’s Nimbus contract, said another worker. “Voicing our opinions at work can come back to hurt us” in future job hunts, added a third.

“I’m a Palestinian-American” with relatives in Gaza, said another now-fired Google worker. “Peaceful expression of opinion is what America stands for and what Google says it stands for—but only if you’re expressing an opinion they [Google] agree with.”

One worker arrested at Google CEO Thomas Kurian’s office in Sunnyvale, Calif., drew the larger picture of why they’re upset not just at Google but at U.S. policy.

“The history of the U.S. is one of colonization and exploitation, and the U.S. government is now backing this—including with artificial intelligence” which Google ordered its technical professionals to create.

“These facts alone should give you pause.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.