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CEO of Web Summit tech conference resigns over Israel comments

Paddy Cosgrave, CEO and founder of Web Summit announced on Saturday that he was stepping down after comments he made about the Israel-Hamas conflict prompted a backlash.
Armando Franca
Paddy Cosgrave, CEO and founder of Web Summit announced on Saturday that he was stepping down after comments he made about the Israel-Hamas conflict prompted a backlash.

The chief executive of one of the world's largest technology conferences resigned on Saturday amid furor over remarks he made about the Israel-Hamas war sparked a boycott that led to droves of speakers and companies to pull out of the gathering.

Organizers for Web Summit, which drew more than 70,000 attendees last year, said the event will still take place in Lisbon next month and that a new CEO will soon be appointed.

Paddy Cosgrave, the Irish entrepreneur who founded Web Summit and has been running the event since 2009, announced his departure after a flurry of companies, including Google, Meta, Amazon and Intel, withdrew from the event in the wake of Cosgrave's comments.

Last week, he wrote on Xthat he was shocked at the rhetoric of so many Western leaders and governments in response to Israel's bombardment of Gaza following the Hamas terrorist attack that killed more than 1,300 people.

"War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies, and should be called out for what they are," Cosgrave wrote, referring to Israel's wave of attacks on Gaza after the violence committed by Hamas.

The statement set off outrage, with venture capitalists, Israeli startup founders and Big Tech companies all pulling out of Web Summit, an annual conference that for the past 14 years has brought together some of the industry's top leaders and companies.

David Marcus, a former Facebook executive who oversaw the company's cryptocurrency project, was among those who criticized Cosgrave, writing on X: "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. You chose to support terrorists. As such I'll never attend/sponsor/speak at any of your events again."

As a boycott movement gained momentum, Cosgrave attempted to walk back his comments with a post on X: "We are devastated to see the terrible killings and the level of innocent civilian casualties in Israel and Gaza. We condemn the attacks by Hamas and extend our deepest sympathies to everyone who has lost loved ones. We hope for peaceful reconciliation."

But he then doubled down on his previous remark, saying: "To repeat: War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies & should be called out for what they are."

As more backed out of the event, Cosgrave issued an apology in hopes of containing the fallout. He wrote that: "I understand that what I said, the timing of what I said, and the way it has been presented has caused profound hurt to many."

Pressure kept mounting, however, and on Saturday, Cosgrave announced that he was stepping aside as the leader of Web Summit. "Unfortunately, my personal comments have become a distraction from the event, and our team, our sponsors, our startups and the people who attend," he wrote on the event's website.

Web Summit was originally held in Dublin but moved in 2015 to Lisbon.

In his apology, Cosgrave wrote that he "unequivocally" supported Israel's right to defend itself, adding that "like so many figures globally, I also believe that, in defending itself, Israel should adhere to international law and the Geneva Conventions – i.e. not commit war crimes."

It is unclear what will happen to Cosgrave's ownership stake in Web Summit, which is about 81%, according to its corporate filing in Ireland. The publicly available submission shows that the event made a profit of about $4 million in 2021, the latest year for which records are available.

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Bobby Allyn
Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.