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FIGHTING BIAS

What every workplace can learn from Google’s antisemitism debacle

Google logo on signs outside office in Beijing
Reuters/Thomas Peter
Google's head of diversity Kamau Bobb has been removed over an anti-Jewish blog post he wrote in 2007.
  • Sarah Todd
By Sarah Todd

Senior reporter, Quartz and Quartz at Work

Published

Anyone can harbor prejudice—even people with jobs focused on championing diversity.

That’s one lesson from the news that Google has reassigned its head of diversity, Kamau Bobb, over a 2007 blog post in which Bobb wrote, “If I were a Jew I would be concerned about my insatiable appetite for war and killing in defense of myself,” among other antisemitic comments. The post, written in response to Israel’s actions at the time including bombing Lebanon and cutting off Gaza residents’ access to utilities, was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon. The blog post has since been deleted from Bobb’s personal site, but a recovered version can be read here.

Google told the BBC that it had removed Bobb from its diversity team and that he will focus on STEM work going forward. “We unequivocally condemn the past writings by a member of our diversity team that are causing deep offense and pain to members of our Jewish community,” a spokesperson said.

The New York Post reports that Bobb separately apologized to the Jewish employee resource group at Google, writing in an email,”What I wrote crudely characterized the entire Jewish community. What was intended as a critique of particular military action fed into anti-Semitic tropes and prejudice.”

An uptick in antisemitism

It’s disappointing to learn that an eventual leader of Google’s diversity efforts was capable of accusing an entire religious and ethnic group of violent tendencies and an “increasing insensitivity to the suffering (of) others.” But it’s not as surprising as it should be.

That’s because antisemitism is a prejudice that is all too frequently minimized and overlooked. In light of the Google controversy, as well as an uptick in antisemitic attacks in the US and Europe in the wake of the escalating Israel-Palestine conflict, all workplaces should take care to discuss the pernicious problem of anti-Jewish views, and how to combat them.

The difference between criticizing Israel and spouting antisemitism

This is not to suggest that workplaces should prevent people from criticizing Israel. Rather, employers can take this opportunity to discuss the mistake that Bobb made back in 2007: conflating all Jewish people with the actions of the Israeli government.

Jewish people are a diverse group, the majority of whom don’t live in Israel, and they hold a wide variety of views on Israel and Israeli policy. (The aforementioned Google group, for example, recently spoke out in support of Palestinian rights.) And so workplaces should take care to highlight the ways that criticism of Israel can veer into antisemitism, and discuss how to avoid it—most crucially, by differentiating between Jewish people and the nation-state of Israel.

Acknowledging the reality of antisemitism

It’s also important for diversity and inclusion discussions and trainings to simply acknowledge the reality of antisemitism as a bias that must be guarded against, along with any number of other prejudices based on factors like religion, race, class, gender, and age. As Olivia Goldhill wrote for Quartz back in 2018, “anti-Semitism is an unusual prejudice in that it portrays Jews as too superior, rather than inferior. This mindset insists that Jewish people cannot be persecuted, cannot be victims, as they are too powerful to be subject to real abuse.” For this reason, antisemitism can receive little attention even among progressives—which in turn allows it to become even stronger and more insidious.

In a 2020 poll from the Pew Research Center, three-quarters of American Jews said there was more antisemitism now than five years earlier, and 53% said they feel less safe. Unfortunately, they have reason to be afraid. Companies can, and should, do their part to put a stop to anti-Jewish hate.

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