Microsoft provides a bold and sometimes overlooked example of how corporations benefit from, and contribute to, Israeli militarism and violence.
When millions took to the streets last year to protest for Black lives, corporations saw trouble. The abolitionist call within the uprising – de-fund the police and invest in a better world – challenges state violence and its greedy profiteers.
So, companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, which enable state surveillance and violence, boosted their public relations.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, for example, declared “solidarity” with Black Lives Matter, and the company donated $250,000 to social justice groups (including the Minnesota Bail Fund).
Thanks to such image-building campaigns, Microsoft doesn’t get scrutinized as much as its peers. The company sponsors think tanks that bolster its progressive credentials and mask the industry’s violent and imperialist agenda.
Microsoft also benefits from the aura of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation. The New York Times still turns to Gates for advice on how to fix the world’s problems, and runs chummy interviews with Microsoft President Brad Smith to get his insights on the problem of “money in politics.”
But systematically omitted from such coverage are Microsoft’s services to armies, police forces, and prisons around the world – including Microsoft’s investments in Israeli settler-colonialism.
Colonial projects have long served as “laboratories” for states and corporations, and Israel is a prime example.
Israel became the model national security state: a regime that controls its populations and puts down uprisings, while producing a fountain of exportable technologies and ideological frameworks.
Corporations profit by working with Israel and the US to develop oppressive technologies, and by pushing these technologies into civilian life.
Microsoft provides a bold and sometimes overlooked example of corporations feeding on Israel’s violence.
Microsoft cultivates and helps export Israel’s dangerous tools, while presenting Israel as “start-up nation” (a hub of entrepreneurs that supposedly improve the world). Microsoft also gives a window into how corporations sanitize the deadly USA-Israeli alliance with the help of non-profits and academic partnerships.
Microsoft opened its first research center outside the US in Israel, in 1991, and today has three branches as part of Microsoft Israel.
Israel has embraced Microsoft’s products, and the company committed to Israel’s industries – enough so that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says “Microsoft is as much an Israeli company as an American company.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said that Israel’s developments in “security” were “improving the (Zionist) world,” and current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella praised Israel’s transformative “human capital.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went further: Israel and Microsoft were a marriage made in heaven, but recognized here on Earth.
Indeed, Microsoft has stood by the Israeli government during some of its worst crimes. During the Second Intifada, Israel mounted a murderous assault on the West Bank.
In. The Israeli army bulldozed a major part of the city, destroying hundreds of homes and leaving thousands without a house.
Some of the destruction and pain is captured in Mohammad Bakri’s 2002 film Jenin, Jenin (now officially banned in Israel). “They shot at anything that moved, even a cat,” says one man interviewed in the film.
Another says, “Everything we built in the last forty-five years was destroyed in five minutes.” The US military had officers on the ground, too, taking notes for the hostile occupation of Iraq.
Following the devastation in Jenin, Microsoft Israel put up billboards along a Tel-Aviv highway with the words “the heart says thanks” to “the forces of security and rescue” – featuring Microsoft’s logo and the Israeli flag.
The activist group Gush-Shalom soon called to boycott Microsoft. This was bad publicity, and at the time, the pro-Israel billboards also threatened Microsoft’s business with clients such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
So Microsoft pivoted: company headquarters distanced itself from the billboards, which were later removed.
Israeli state violence, however, only grew. During the year of the Jenin massacre, Microsoft got a three-year 100-million-shekel contract with the Israeli government ($35 million in current US dollars) – the largest contract of its kind for Israel at the time.
As part of the contract, Microsoft agreed to provide unlimited products to the Israeli army and defense ministry, and broadly exchange “knowledge” with the army.
According to Israeli newspapers, Israel paid Microsoft from its USA “aid” money – a standard way for US corporations to profit by working with Israel. Microsoft has continued to benefit from Israel’s violence ever since.
The Israeli army’s surveillance and counterinsurgency units (such as Unit 8200) produce startups based on military work.
They also train a work force that companies like Microsoft want. Over the years, Microsoft has acquired numerous startups emerging from the IDF, sometimes hiring their personnel, and invested in Israeli companies.
Microsoft’s recent investments include AnyVision, an Israeli company that provides the state with cameras and facial recognition software for surveilling Palestinians in the West Bank.
AnyVision is suspected to be the manufacturer of a spy camera, planted by Israel in a cemetery in the village of Kober, that Palestinians found and dismantled in October 2019.
Following bad press and pressure from activists – including a campaign by Jewish Voice for Peace and a call to boycott AnyVision by the BDS National Committee – Microsoft announced it will divest from the Israeli startup.
But Microsoft didn’t end its relationship with AnyVision. In an interview, AnyVision CMO Adam Devine said he understood Microsoft’s decision to divest since the company “must be sensitive to any potential risk to their brand”.
But that AnyVision continues to have “a viable commercial relationship with Microsoft” and use Microsoft’s services. “It’s all good,” Devine added. “They did the right thing and it was fine for us.” Indeed, Microsoft still offers AnyVision’s facial recognition product on its platform.
Besides, Microsoft’s investments in Israel’s military-industrial complex go far beyond one company. Many make profits in the Israeli death industry.
In recent years, Microsoft has acquired Israeli “cybersecurity” companies such as Aorato (in 2014 for $200 million), Adallom (in 2015 for $320 million), Hexadite (in 2017 for $100 million), and CyberX (in 2020 for $165 million) – all based on IDF technologies.
Adallom’s co-founder explained that “in the IDF we worked on technologies that were used to combat terrorism using machine intelligence,” and he was interested in how “technologies used to fight terrorism in Israel could be repurposed to help companies mitigate attacks on their data.”
These startups make monitoring technologies that appeal to the US surveillance state and its corporate partners. For example, Aorato’s patents (now owned by Microsoft) include a system for inferring the location of networked devices even in the absence of direct GPS signals.
Aorato’s CEO speculated that their products could have prevented Edward Snowden’s leaks by monitoring computer activities. No wonder Microsoft is interested: Snowden’s leaks exposed how Microsoft and its peers collaborated with the NSA, and the Pentagon is Microsoft’s client.
Israel’s death industries are necessary for it to be treated as a technological powerhouse.
Israel constantly advertises its “high-tech” army, and Microsoft’s gadgets play into these propaganda campaigns. And while details about where and how these gadgets are used are kept secret, they are meant to kill.
According to Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Xbox leads to “better performances” – since obliterating neighborhoods is apparently like playing a video game.
Elbit also helped build the surveillance infrastructure along the Arizona-Mexico border, which encroaches on the land of the Tohono O’odham Nation – showing how the international weapons industry and settler-colonialism work together, both in Palestine and Turtle Island.
The Israeli army uses Microsoft’s gadgets in official propaganda campaigns. In one video, the IDF claims that Microsoft HoloLens, a “mixed reality” gadget, allows the army to “identify its enemies” and “control robots and drones with gestures.
We know that the Israeli state kills, maims, imprisons, kidnaps, and dispossesses. According to B’Tselem, between 2018 and 2020, Israel has killed over 440 Palestinians, in addition to wounding and maiming thousands in the Great March of Return in Gaza.
The state’s recent crimes include the murders of twenty-six year old Ahmad Erekat and fifteen-year old Mohammed Hamayel, the maiming and wounding of teenagers Bashar Hamad and Yusef Taha, and the detention and sexual abuse of children.
In September 2020, Israel held over 4,200 Palestinians in prison or detention. Then there is the dispossession: in 2020 alone, Israel demolished 172 Palestinian homes in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), leaving over 900 people without a home.
Mondoweiss / ABC Flash Point News 2021.