Updated Oct 17, 2023 - Technology

Web Summit CEO's Israel statements spark controversy

Photo: Bruno de Carvalho/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Major tech companies are weighing their involvement in Europe's biggest tech conference after Web Summit's co-founder suggested Israel was guilty of war crimes in its response to Hamas' terrorist attacks.

What's happening: The Israeli government and several speakers withdrew their participation on Monday.

Catch up quick: Paddy Cosgrave, co-founder and CEO of Web Summit, which attracts 70,000 people to Lisbon, Portugal each November, posted on X (formerly Twitter) on Oct. 13, "I'm shocked at the rhetoric and actions of so many Western leaders" in response to Israel's bombing of the Gaza Strip.

  • "War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies, and should be called out for what they are," he wrote, referencing Israel's decision to cut water and electricity supplies to Gaza and its warning to 1 million residents of northern Gaza to evacuate their homes.
  • Cosgrave clarified two days later that "what Hamas did is outrageous and disgusting," but reiterated that Israel does not "have a right to break international law," further posting "I will not relent."
  • As withdrawals piled up, Cosgrave issued an apology Oct. 17 : "I unreservedly condemn Hamas' evil, disgusting and monstrous October 7 attack. I also call for the unconditional release of all hostages," adding "I unequivocally support Israel's right to exist and to defend itself."

Why it matters: The furious reaction to Cosgrave's comments is turning Web Summit into a litmus test for how tech companies handle the Israel-Hamas conflict. 

What they're saying: Dor Shapira, Israel's ambassador to Portugal, labeled Cosgrave's statements as "outrageous."

  • Adam Singolda, a longtime Web Summit attendee and CEO of Taboola, the largest Israeli-founded firm based in America, posted, "I'll send you all the light that I can, because I believe you made a mistake," but "we'll never work together again."

The context: Cosgrave was reacting in part to a statement by Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, which expressed concern that Israel was applying an illegal collective punishment against all Palestinians in Gaza.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a new statement from Paddy Cosgrave.

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