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Google staff ordered to leave politics at home after anti-Israel protests

israel protests
Google sacked 28 employees following anti-Israel protests at its California office - X/Katejsim

Google’s chief executive has told staff to leave their politics at home in a rebuke to employees who have campaigned against its work with the Israeli government.

Sundar Pichai said that the office was not a place “to fight over disruptive issues or debate politics” amid fierce disagreements between its employees.

The edict marks a decisive shift from Google, which has long been seen as a beacon of a collegiate Silicon Valley culture encouraging political debate.

Google once told employees to “bring their whole selves to work” and supported widespread political discussions on its internal discussion boards.

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But the policy has threatened to backfire in recent years as the company has been rocked by a string of employee protests over defence contracts and gender inequality.

google israel protests
Google workers staged a sit-in over the company's work with Israel - X/MPower_Change

On Wednesday Google sacked 28 staff who had staged a protest at the company’s offices objecting to its work for the Israeli government.

“[We] need to be more focused in how we work, collaborate, discuss and even disagree,” Mr Pichai wrote in an email to employees.

“We have a culture of vibrant, open discussion that enables us to create amazing products and turn great ideas into action. That’s important to preserve. But ultimately we are a workplace and our policies and expectations are clear: this is a business, and not a place to act in a way that disrupts coworkers or makes them feel unsafe, to attempt to use the company as a personal platform, or to fight over disruptive issues or debate politics.

“This is too important a moment as a company for us to be distracted.

“When we come to work, our goal is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. That supersedes everything else and I expect us to act with a focus that reflects that.”

On Tuesday, employees staged a sit in at the company’s Silicon Valley and New York offices, wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan “Googler against genocide” and occupying the office of Thomas Kurian, the head of its cloud computing division.

Nine were arrested after refusing to leave.

Google sells cloud computing and artificial intelligence services to the Israeli military as part of a $1.2bn (£1bn) programme called Project Nimbus. The company has said it merely provides “generally available cloud computing services” to the project.

Addressing the protests on Wednesday, Google’s head of security Chris Rackow said the protests were “unacceptable, extremely disruptive, and made co-workers feel threatened”.

Google has gradually sought to crack down on fractious political debates in recent years. It recently made changes to its internal messaging tool to limit rows about the war in Gaza and discouraged political discussions during meetings.

It has come amid increasing protests over the company’s more controversial work, including an AI contract for the US military and a secret project to build a censored Chinese search engine, both of which have now been abandoned.

The company has also faced employee uprisings over how it treats women and over mass redundancies.

In 2017, it sacked an engineer after he circulated a memo arguing against Google’s efforts to close the gender gap.

Mr Pichai’s directive underlines a shift in Silicon Valley, where companies have often sought to foster a “mission driven culture”.

In 2020, the cryptocurrency company Coinbase said it would not allow discussions of politics and social issues at work, offering staff payoffs if they quit over the policy. The move was controversial at the time, with executives including Twitter’s then chief Jack Dorsey publicly criticising it and dozens of staff leaving.

Other tech giants including Facebook’s parent company Meta have sought to limit political discussions at work.

Google has recently faced criticism after its Gemini chatbot produced diverse images of Nazi soldiers and Vikings. Its founder Sergey Brin admitted that the chatbot “leans Left in many cases”.