Khashoggi killing puts spotlight on Saudi investments in Silicon Valley

ByAnser Hassan via KGO logo
Saturday, October 20, 2018
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The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has many experts re-examining U.S.-Saudi relations.

ANKARA, Turkey (KGO) -- The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has many experts re-examining U.S.-Saudi relations.

Many Bay Area activists hope the gruesome killing of the Washington Post columnist is a tipping point in bring the Saudis to account. Not just for his murder, but also for alleged other atrocities, like the war in Yemen, along with a series of domestic concerns, such as the torture, kidnapping and the detention of groups like journalists, Shias and other dissidents within the holy kingdom.

But for Bay Area businesses, the relationship is bit more complicated.

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An evening DoorDash delivery in downtown San Francisco is becoming a familiar sight. The food delivery app's growth has been fueled by investors - like Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has pumped billions into Silicon Valley ventures, even funding big name startups like Slack and Uber.

"I'd love to see people (in Silicon Valley) take ethical stands on issues like this, but I haven't seen it so much in the past," says Professor Emeritus George Bisharat, who teaches law at UC Hastings.

He believes, despite some symbolic gestures, like skipping out on Prince Mohamed bin Salman's big investment conference, "Davos in the Desert," Silicon Valley won't be closing their bank accounts to Saudi money.

"There may be some period of time in which there will be some symbolic gestures, like the withdrawal from the conference, but beyond that, I expect business to be as usual. Sadly," he says.

When asked if it's because billions of dollars are involved, his response is: "It's because we are talking about billions of dollars and lives that are relatively inconsequential to us. When it comes to caring about the lives of the people in the Arab world, and the Middle East in generally, we don't have a very good record," explained Bisharat.

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He says the last time corporate America stood up to global injustice on a "significant scale" was apartheid in South Africa. He adds, there is there is also little political will coming from Washington.

Bay Area democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier spoke to ABC7 News during her visit to her district this weekend. She believes things can be different. She acknowledges the huge amounts of Saudi money coming into her district, but she says it starts with President Trump, such as the $100 billion arms sales to the desert kingdom.

"I really do think our relationship with Saudi Arabia has to be recalibrated," she says. "And why would we want to see that kind of money? And why would we want to see that kind of money from a country that is engaging in that type of behavior?"

But many analysts say there is more to the U.S.-Saudi relation than just oil and arms sales. The Saudis are still seen as an important American ally in the Middle East.