Web Summit CEO's Israel statements spark controversy
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.
- More than 300 sponsors and 1,000 speakers — including Anthropic CEO Dario Amodei and Meta president of global affairs Nick Clegg — will likely be pressured in coming days to clarify their own views on the war.
- The withdrawal of AI companies and startup accelerator figures such as Y Combinator CEO Garry Tan strikes at the heart of Web Summit's $40 million annual business centered on connecting startups and investors.
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.
- The White House declined to criticize Israel, but called for the restoration of water supplies. Israel says it is acting in self-defense.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a new statement from Paddy Cosgrave.