Genocide profiteer IBM wins big on EU funding

IBM has a history of doing business with human rights abusers. 

Dominika Zarzycka SOPA Images/SIPA USA

Israel’s use of artificial intelligence to select targets in Gaza during the current genocide has garnered many headlines.

Few who have paid close attention to how Israel tests new technology on Palestinians can be surprised. Israel had previously signaled that its May 2021 attack on Gaza gave it an opportunity to experiment with AI.

The proper response to those signals would have been to halt any funding of AI research involving Israeli firms and institutions. The European Union has taken the opposite approach.

In September 2023, the EU authorized a project aimed at realizing a future in which collaboration between humans and AI “takes center stage.”

Participants in the project include IBM Israel – a subsidiary of the US-based giant.

IBM has a long and ignoble history of providing technology to abusers of human rights. Among its past clients were the German government during the Nazi era and South Africa’s apartheid regime.

More recently, IBM has been awarded a series of contracts to run technology support centers for the Israeli military. Robotics are a core feature of the latest such center.

It is a near certainty that IBM products can be found in Israel’s toolbox during the current genocide.

No questions about IBM’s ties to the Israeli military seem to have been asked by EU officials before they rubber-stamped the aforementioned project in September.

I have seen a copy of an “ethics check” carried out on the project – named HumAIne – at the EU’s request.

The exercise was one of box-ticking.

It came to the conclusion that HumAIne had an “exclusive focus on civil applications.” The only significant recommendation was that “an independent ethics adviser must be appointed with the relevant accumulated expertise” so that the project could be monitored.

The recommendation did not address IBM’s connections to Israel’s military. It merely referred to “ethical concerns” surrounding the project, particularly “the involvement of humans in the evaluation of AI systems.”

While HumAIne was signed off by the Brussels bureaucracy before the genocidal war on Gaza was declared in October, the EU has okayed a huge number of new research grants to Israel since then.

IBM Israel is among the recipients of those new grants. It is taking part in a project on data-sharing innovations, which the EU authorized in mid-November.

“See no evil”

Ignorance is no defense for the EU’s lack of curiosity about IBM and its close relationship with the Israeli military. As IBM Israel has received 130 EU research grants with a total value of almost $93 million since 2007, Brussels officials have had ample time to probe the firm’s activities.

That they have chosen not to is symptomatic of a “see no evil” attitude which prevails.

In late February, a group of EU staff sent a letter to Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner for budget and administration. It expressed strong disquiet at how the EU institutions had expressed support for and maintained close relations with Israel.

After pointing out that the International Court of Justice had accepted there is a plausible case that Israel is violating the Genocide Convention, the letter raised concerns that EU staff could be complicit in the Gaza genocide. It urged that the EU’s in-house lawyers prepare advice for staff working in or with the Middle East on how they can avoid being held liable for complicity in genocide.

Although it is nearly two months since the letter was sent, Hahn has still not responded to it.

When I contacted his spokesperson this week, I was told that Hahn “takes note” of the letter and “an answer is in preparation.”

The cavalier nature of that brief comment is instructive. Europe’s political elite is continuing to caress Israel against the backdrop of a holocaust in Gaza.


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