Under Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has shifted its investments from Wall Street to Silicon Valley, pouring billions upon untold billions of dollars into a litany of startups and major tech firms: San Francisco’s DoorDash and Slack, Santa Clara-based Nvidia and Menlo Park’s Katerra, to name just a few.

This past April, the 33-year-old royal stayed at East Palo Alto’s Four Seasons Hotel to hobnob with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and the search giant’s CEO Sundar Pichai, among a who’s-who of Silicon Valley titans, including Palantir’s Peter Thiel, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen and Y-Combinator’s Sam Altman.

But Wall Street Journal reporter Jamal Khashoggi’s apparent murder at the hands of Saudi Arabian agents on Oct. 2 has forced the tech industry to confront its budding romance with the oil-rich theocratic monarchy, which carried out 48 beheadings in the first four months of 2018. A host of top Silicon Valley executives have since pulled out of this month’s second annual Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, known as “Davos in the Desert,” including Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Google Cloud chief exec Diane Greene.

The San Jose-Silicon Valley delegation on the five-day trip back in May. (Photo via Facebook)

Now, San Jose Councilman Johnny Khamis has confirmed through a spokesman that he turned down an invitation for what would have been his second trip to the kingdom “out of concern for recent developments.”

For local activists who have tirelessly raised awareness about the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led atrocities in Yemen, it’s about damn time.

Members of the Yemeni Alliance Committee rebuked  Khamis back in May for joining Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino, Silicon Valley Organization’s second-in-command Madison Nguyen and Google Ventures’ Lo Toney on a five-day delegation to Riyadh despite human rights abuses within and beyond its borders.

“Why do you want to bring business to our lovely Bay Area with your war criminals?” Shukria Hakim asked Khamis at the May 15 council session. “Saudi Arabia has been bombing, killing Yemeni people for over three years. Thousands have died. … Why did you visit? Is money and profit more important than a Yemeni’s life? Do you wish to invest in bloodshed?”

Mohammed Taleb, of the Asian Law Caucus, echoed Hakim’s dismay.

“How can we allow our economy to profit or to contribute to atrocities?” he asked city leaders. “If anything, the respective City council should be drafting language to reject any further collaborations. We are supporting this war by entertaining these ventures and doing business with war criminals. I expect you all to agree that profit should not come before human life.”

While San Jose as a city plays a relatively minor role in geopolitical affairs, members of the Yemeni Alliance Committee said it should still take a stand as a destination for immigrants and refugees, as the so-called Capital of Silicon Valley and as part of a region that manufactures weapons and other military technologies.

“Having said all of that, it is hard to believe that the city of San Jose—leaders of technology and innovation—are not only willing to do business with Riyadh, but have also taken steps to intensify the partnership, which is apparent with Khamis’ visit to the Kingdom back in May,” said Jehan Hakim, who chairs the Yemeni Alliance Committee. “Even after Saudi was condemned by the United Nations for its involvement in Yemen, with the killing of hundreds of children. The Yemeni-American community holds our elected officials accountable for doing any business with war criminals. If we will not be people of conscience and speak against our government’s role in the war in Yemen, we should at least halt all business with the kingdom until they halt the airstrikes and violence that is killing the people of Yemen and perpetuating famine and disease.”

Mayor Sam Liccardo, who expressed support for the privately funded journey back last spring, has yet to respond to a request for comment.

At the same mid-May meeting where the activists criticized Khamis for the trip, it should be noted that he made a point of expressing empathy for the plight of the Yemenis.

“I don’t get to choose who the United States gets to make friends with,” he said in response to Taleb and Hakim. “I’m a Palestinian, and just yesterday, 50 Palestinians were killed by a U.S. ally while protesting. So I’m no stranger to the sensitivities that you have displayed. But I also know that not talking to people is not understanding one another.”

At the time, Khamis justified his trip by extolling the power of capital to change hearts and minds, adding that he hopes the kingdom’s ministry of trade sets up shop in San Jose as a result of the expedition.

“I think businesses have led the way in many ways to change even U.S. domestic policy on women’s movement, on gay rights,” he said. “So business is a great way to get your foot in the door and start making changes.”

Google Venture's Lo Toney was one of the featured speakers at an event during the trip. (Photo via Facebook)

Published by The Fly

The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.

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20 Comments

  1. “I don’t get to choose who the United States gets to make friends with,” he said in response to Taleb and Hakim. “I’m a Palestinian, and just yesterday, 50 Palestinians were killed by a U.S. ally while protesting.” -Mr. Khamis

    What a statement! Khamis is referring to Israel of course.He cannot even bring himself to say the name of the ONLY democracy in the middle east. He’d rather deal with the treacherous Saudis. Sadly these so called “protesters”, Khamis mentions are shooting missiles or floating fire bombs into Israel. They are lighting tires on fire causing outrageous ecological harm.These are NOT mere protesters as we might find in America! Khamis is exposed here in his jargon and his position. He is not to be trusted. His ‘I don’t choose who the United States gets to make friends with”comment, reveals an alienated, non-citizen type of remark couched in hatred and lack of love for our nation. At best his words are suspect.

    1. He didn’t say the name of the country because he was not making a point about attacking Israel, he was saying that he could identify with a revanchist and grievance-based politics based on national identity if he wanted to, but he was choosing not to because he believes in something different. You completely missed his point in the most thorough and complete sense by interpreting it as him taking one side (Palestine) over another (Israel) and then aggressively attacking him as a “non-citizen” for taking the wrong side. If you ask me, you’re the one who sounds like a stranger to democratic culture.

  2. How Arab royals deal with their subjects, and sometimes even with extended family, is no secret. There is little reverence for life, as such, and never has been. Khashoggi’s dilemma is not ours, however —no matter who he writes for—just another reminder of how good life in California really is. And why exactly should we care about the Yemeni conflict? It was eighteen years ago this month that the USS Cole was bombed there and seventeen sailors died. Yemen’s problems are not ours.

  3. Our corrupt council and yet another silly junket around the world to better “promote” san jose!

  4. Dear Mr. Fly:

    Please stop mindlessly printing press releases from so-called “activist” groups.

    There is plenty of perfidy in the Middle East to go around and we don’t need any more biased narratives to influence American voters to support this gang of primitive thugs or that gang of primitive thugs.

    I believe President Trump’s endgame in the Middle East is to extricate the United States from the quagmire of squabbling tribes over there and allow the locals to have whatever religious or ideological wars they choose to have without our meddling, military involvement or financial support.

    Tell the Saudis to drink their oil and Yemeni Alliance Committee to pitch their war to someone else and leave us out of it.

    1. The U.S. will never “extricate” themselves from the oil rich rulers of the Mideast, Trump was just recently touting the weapons the Saudis have purchased not exactly what I would call extrication.

      1. > The U.S. will never “extricate” themselves from the oil rich rulers of the Mideast,

        Florencio:

        A fair point.

        But never say “never”.

        The U.S. is, or is heading toward energy independence. (Thank you President Trump).

        And, the weapons sales are a short term problem. They will eventually be concluded.

        If the U.S. is not dependent on Saudi Arabia or the Middle East for energy supplies, the U.S. has a lot less reason to defend or sell arms to shady regimes.

        Trump is smart enough to grow the economy through means other than arms sales.

  5. Boycott Saudi Arabia until we know what happened to Mr. Khashoggi.
    Blood money is tainted money from bad people.

  6. > Boycott Saudi Arabia until we know what happened to Mr. Khashoggi.

    Robyn:

    Verdict first, and then the trial?

    Call me old fashioned, but I would prefer to see the trial first, and THEN the verdict.

    Oh, and also, I would like to see someone other than the fake news New York Times be the jury.

  7. #notoGoogle #SaveOurCineramaDomes

    Everything. Is. Connected. We all wonder why Liccardo and half the council want Google so much… Does this perhaps fit into the puzzle? Techs — including Googles founders and CEO — willingness to support such a regime? This story is an extremely interesting read, and it is definitely not a possibility to ignore.
    The San Jose City Council appears to be chummy with Saudi Arabia, just like Google’s CEO and founders.
    Liccardo and his supporters are doing things under the false facade of a government for and by the people. Both he and the search monopoly have refused to address literally hundreds of peoples concerns regarding homelessness and mental health, and now we may know why…
    Illegal behavior and blood money?
    When Chuck Reed wanted to destroy Coyote Valley for big tech, was that the same type of deal/mindset? The multi-page EIR was totally BS’d, saying that our valley was not home to any wildlife.
    Was he partially behind the documents creation? Like Liccardo, Reed was — and still is — a rich individual with very close ties to real estate.
    Lest we also forget his “repeated” refusals to explain to us why he did not see the Century Domes as historic structures.

    We must wonder…

  8. Madison Nguyen again in the limelight in a negative way? Why is everything about this person so questionable and dirty?

    Pray that this controversial person NEVER EVER hold any office ever again. Amen.

    1. Couldnt agree with you more! Madison is incompetent at best and a communist sympathizer. But most know that the entire SJ council is corrupt and mostly incompetent. Its the San Jose way….

  9. Naïveté on the part of Khamis is no excuse. The Saudi government has no rights over the life or death of a reporter residing in the in the USA and working in the USA. Just because he may say something or write something which the Saudi Government disagrees with is by no means a reason to take his life. Freedom of speech is what is at stake here, regardless of who makes the speech or who the speech is pointed at. I hope the long knives don’t come looking for me.

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