Web Summit’s CEO Paddy Cosgrave has stepped down from his role following his comments on the Israel-Hamas war.
The CEO of one of the largest tech conferences has resigned after controversy around his comments on the Israel-Hamas war, which has seen several tech companies and speakers withdraw their participation.
Paddy Cosgrave labelled Israel’s retaliation to the October 7 attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas as "war crimes" and compared the conflict to the Troubles in Ireland, on the social media platform X (formerly called Twitter) on October 15.
"I am resigning as CEO of Web Summit with immediate effect. Unfortunately, my personal comments have become a distraction from the event, and our team, our sponsors, our startups, and the people who attend. I sincerely apologise again for any hurt I have caused," Cosgrave told TechCrunch.
Several tech companies, investors, and founders said they would boycott Web Summit's Lisbon event, which will go ahead in November and usually hosts 70,000 people over three days.
"Saddened by your ill-informed stance. You could’ve taken a more nuanced one, condemning these atrocities and calling for restraint. That would’ve been acceptable," said Fintech entrepreneur and former Meta executive David Marcus on X, adding, "I’ll never attend/sponsor/speak at any of your events again".
Multinational companies and sponsors Siemens and Intel also said they were withdrawing. Other tech heavyweights Meta and Google will also no longer participate.
Others on social media also criticised Web Summit’s February conference in Qatar.
"Will refuse to work with anyone who speaks at this conference in Qatar for the rest of my career," Keith Rabois, the Founders Fund partner and entrepreneur, said on X.
The Israeli ambassador to Portugal, Dor Shapira, said he wrote to Lisbon’s mayor that Israel would no longer participate in the conference due to Cosgrave’s "outrageous" statements and encouraged more companies to cancel their participation.
"Even during these difficult times, he is unable to set aside his extreme political views and denounce the Hamas terrorist activities against innocent people," he also wrote on LinkedIn.
Israel is a world leader in tech and artificial intelligence (AI), the country’s best-known exports. The situation highlights how it is not just Israel’s tech sector that is willing to cut business ties due to the conflict.
Monique Woodard, the founding partner at US venture capital firm Cake Ventures, said she had rescinded her participation in Web Summit due to Cosgrave’s comments.
"This was a hard decision only because of the founders that it will impact as many investors from around the world decide not to attend," Woodard wrote on X.
The Web Summit founder issued a public apology on October 17.
"To anyone who was hurt by my words, I apologise deeply. What is needed at this time is compassion, and I did not convey that," wrote Cosgrave.
"Web Summit has a long history of partnership with Israel and its tech firms, and I am deeply regretful that those friends were hurt by any of what I said. My aim is and always has been to strive for peace".
Euronews Next has reached out to Web Summit for comment.