How To Boycott Israel at Work
Advocate for Palestine / Boycott Israel at Work
- What's the situation
- Israeli tech abuses
- Tech workers rising
- Boycott and Divestment as effective strategies
- What can you do?
- Step 1: Connect
- Step 2: Investigate
- Step 3: Organise
- Know your rights
As a settler-colonial State, Israel uses the business of tech to support and profit off its illegal occupation of Palestinian lands. It continues its genocide, ethnic cleansing, forced displacements and collective punishment of Palestinians by indiscriminately bombing civilians in Gaza, including hospitals, schools, universities, blood banks, ambulances, UN shelters and refugee camps, and targeting journalists.
As tech workers, we have a responsibility to ensure that our labour does not enable genocide and apartheid. This guide offers suggestions about some concrete actions you can take as a tech worker in the UK.
We also recommend this guide on UK employment law as it relates to advocacy for Palestinian rights.
What's the situation
Israel is using an array of sophisticated tech, like automated drone systems, facial recognition surveillance, cloud services and other military or surveillance tools to support a brutal apartheid regime, cause long-term environmental damage, and commit war crimes in Gaza and the West Bank. None of these Israeli actions amount to a State’s right to self-defence. Instead, they have been recognised as clear violations of international law by the UN Secretary General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, WHO, UNICEF, OCHA, at least 36 UN Special Rapporteurs, UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Situation in Palestine, hundreds of well-respected legal scholars and experts, and human rights organisations.
The Israeli military-tech-industrial complex has been integral to maintaining this state of affairs for decades before the current war on Gaza. Israel’s military and surveillance sector is deeply tied up with the global tech industry, and the weapons and tools of oppression produced by Israel are ‘field-tested’ on Palestinians and exported to authoritarian and colonial regimes worldwide.
TECH WORKERS RISING
Heeding the urgent calls by Palestinian trade unions for international solidarity and Israeli disarmament, the United Tech and Allied Workers branch of the CWU has been calling on their members to cease work or avoid starting work on any weapons or other military technology, including software and cloud services, that are destined for use by Israel. Globally, tech workers are demanding that their employers review and rescind their contracts with the State of Israel as well as private firms complicit in occupation and apartheid.
The worker-led movement #NoTechForApartheid has raised alarm over Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion contract with Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services to provide cloud technology to the Israeli government and military. This technology surveils Palestinians and facilitates the expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land. It is clear to us that we must disarm this regime, and it is morally reprehensible to accept the operation of ‘business as usual’ with any power that enables apartheid and genocide.
Boycott and Divestment as effective strategies
Boycotting and divesting from Israel’s technological apparatus is an effective and peaceful strategy we can pursue as tech workers. This strategy is also part of a long-running global movement of Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) led by Palestinians, which targets economic infrastructures that enable apartheid in Palestine.
BDS strategies have a track record of creating meaningful change. Historically, global efforts to target the economic infrastructures of apartheid have been successful—for instance, the international solidarity movement which eventually led to the dismantling of South African apartheid in 1993.
As tech workers, we are part of an influential industry and are particularly well-positioned to use boycott and divestment tactics to pressure local, regional, and national bodies and governments to create sanctions against recalcitrant regimes like Israel’s.
What can you do?
Step 1: Connect
Check if your organisation already has tech workers organising against apartheid.
You can look for colleagues who have posted in your organisation’s communication channels or post your own message of solidarity with Palestine and note who responds. Below is one example:
Just wanted to highlight the National March for Palestine on Saturday and encourage anyone who can to attend. It’s easy to feel helpless when atrocities have the implicit support of our own government, but the reality is we all have more power now than we did when we all showed solidarity with Ukraine after the Russian invasion. Everybody on the streets calling for a ceasefire and a just peace will count in the mind of those with the power to put an end to the 75 year cycle of violence in Palestine and Israel. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza - where half the population are children - is only getting worse, and the massacre must stop to save the lives of tens of thousands more Palestinians.
Once you’ve identified some sympathetic individuals, reach out for a phone call or in-person conversation and ask if they’d like to work together with you to persuade your company to divest. If they agree, ask them if they know any other colleagues who would be interested in this, and if they would be willing to ask them to join you. Once you have 5-10 interested people, have a meeting to plan the next step: research.
Step 2: Investigate
Investigate your organisation’s existing contracts for complicity
AVENUE A: Check your company's contracts and investments
Check if you have contracts with the Israeli government or military, or with a company currently on the boycott list maintained by the BDS Movement.
- Use your company website and annual reports to find existing or new contracts that may be complicit.
- You can also follow the industry news to keep up with contracts and projects.
- Make a list of contracts and relationships to investigate further.
- Use this handbook to help you with your corporate research.
AVENUE B: Dig deeper on any suspicious contracts in your list
- Do a background search on contracts with Israel or with the complicit companies listed on the BDS movement website.
- Use the resources below to look into the companies from your list.
- You can use the database created by Who Profits to cross check company names from your list. Who Profits is an independent research center dedicated to exposing the commercial involvement of Israeli and international corporations in the occupation and war crimes.
- If you don’t find information regarding the company you’re searching for, but want to get information, you can write to them at email@example.com.
- You can also explore the database of Israeli military and security exports- DIMSE. They have a detailed online corporate database where you can search the relevant company’s name. They also produce infographics and reports that cover a wide range of issues.
- AFSC Investigate provides information on companies that may be invested in state violence through companies involved in mass incarceration, immigrant detention and surveillance, military occupation, or the border industry. The aim is to help people align their investments with ethical values. You can search their database and also write to them using their contact page.
- You can also reach out to the Palestinian BDS National Committee for information.
AVENUE C: Check with your company
If you found a contract you suspect might be complicit but could not find any information from the above sources, you could consider asking someone in your company about it. Obviously this is a potentially risky move, so carefully consider the risk and only proceed if you feel comfortable doing so. Take a look at this guide to UK employment law and advocating for Palestinian rights to help you decide.
Step 3: Organise
Turning your findings into a campaign
Now that you’ve identified contracts with companies that are a legitimate target for BDS, it’s time to take action. At this stage, it would also help to contact your trade union.
Remember, our aim is not to punish companies who have contracts with Israel but to pressure them to end such contracts. This is because the central objective is to end complicity with Israel’s apartheid and genocide through these contracts, and to ensure that companies do not profit off the oppression of Palestinian people. Ending these contracts ensures your labour is not directed towards maintaining this criminal structure. To this end, the initial goal will be to ask your employer to tell the complicit company that it must end its business relationships with Israel or your employer will terminate their contract.
Before you do that, it’s important to build support for this demand among your colleagues.If your trade union has a policy supporting BDS, they might be able to help you plan and execute such a campaign.
To build safety in numbers and a powerful campaign you need to get together with coworkers. You will know your own workplace best and should use your best judgment as to what will work.
The following general steps are a rough outline of how we build a campaign.
Move away from work communications
Wherever possible, avoid using work communication systems to build the campaign. Using work communication systems for union campaigns should be protected (as long as it’s outside of your working hours) but the assumption should be that anything you say is monitored by your employer.
Regardless of the law, employers do apply pressure to discourage reaching out to colleagues via work comms and may introduce restrictive policies for Slack, Teams, and other platforms.
If you can get people to use your union’s comms system or private Signal or WhatsApp groups, then this allows much freer conversation without surveillance. Where colleagues are union members, an email could be sent out to invite them to specific communication channels, or you could do phone-banking of fellow members to gauge interest and encourage involvement.
For non-members you could send a simple message like “Hi. My trade union is running a campaign for [company] to cease contracts with Israel / adopt BDS / etc. If you’re interested in getting involved, please email [address] with a phone number to be added to the Signal group.” - adapt as needed.
Gauge interest among friends and trusted colleagues
Talk about the issue with friends and colleagues you trust. You likely already have an idea of the views of these people and so can contact those who you think will be interested.
This is best done in person or over the phone, using non-work contact details you already have, or on one-to-one calls.
With friends and fellow union members, you can form a committee of those who want to be actively involved with running the campaign (and not just passive supporters).
Plan outreach with the initial campaign group
The next step is to decide as a committee how to reach out to get more people involved and find out who supports the campaign.
This will involve a bit of admin and probably a spreadsheet. Map out your team / department / officer / company and divide coworkers who are not yet involved between you for one-to-one conversations.
If a committee member already has the personal contact details of a worker, that’s a good reason for that person to be assigned to them. Likewise, if they work alongside them on a regular basis there has likely already been some trust built.
Ensure the whole committee understands that any employer-monitorable discussion should be limited to outside working hours. Also, be prepared for possible backlash, intimidation, or discussion about the activity with managers / HR.
If HR or management do approach you, it is best to push back on any offer to have a one-to-one meeting (you will have to attend if directly ordered but otherwise avoid it) and try to assert that any communications should be in writing, so a paper trail can be built. If an informal verbal conversation takes place, take some notes and email any salient points to the manager, e.g., “Thanks for the chat earlier, where you told me X, Y and Z.” This creates a paper trail which is then up to the manager to dispute, and which you can have as evidence if needed.
When reaching out to fellow workers, the aim will be to have them commit to an initial action on the basis of their support for this cause (e.g., joining the Whatsapp group, or signing an open letter). Another important outcome of this conversation is to get a personal email or phone number and permission to contact them further. Add this, and any commitments they made, to your map.
Once there are enough people (to your best judgement as a committee) signed up to the campaign, it’s time for action.
Start with a simple, low effort, low risk action, such as an open letter. Decide on the details of the action as a group (e.g., the wording of an open letter, who it will be sent to, and the target number of signatories) then start mobilising those signed up to the campaign to take the action. This will involve using multiple methods of communication, as well as leaning on personal relationships.
Acting together will aim to have some effect, while also acting as a test of the strength of your organisation as a campaign group.
If you can’t mobilise enough people for the action, that indicates you haven’t built a strong enough organisation and may need to go back to outreach and one-to-one conversations.
If you are successful, your employer may react to the action and agree to your demands, but more likely they will ignore you or try to retaliate. In this case, you will need to reconvene as a committee/campaign group and decide on your next action, which should be a step up in terms of impact and risk.
At this stage, everyone on the committee should be a union member and everyone who signed up for the campaign should be encouraged to join.
This gives you all greater protection and can be leveraged for collective negotiation to win your campaign’s demands.
Know your rights
For general legal advice, check out the UTAW guide on advocating for Palestine at work.
Your union will be able to give advice on specific situations, we strongly suggest working through a union.