In a surprising turn of events, Paddy Cosgrave, the CEO and co-founder of the renowned European tech conference, Web Summit, has resigned following a substantial backlash over his public statements accusing Israel of committing “war crimes” and violating international law. The annual event, which gathers thousands of leading tech startups and firms in Lisbon, Portugal, now faces a leadership vacuum.
Cosgrave, an Irish entrepreneur who established Web Summit in 2009, found himself at the center of controversy after expressing his views on Israel’s ongoing bombing campaign in Gaza, which, according to local authorities, has resulted in the deaths of over 4,400 Palestinians, predominantly civilians, and widespread infrastructure devastation. His comments, posted on the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter), sparked a firestorm.
“I’m shocked at the rhetoric and actions of so many Western leaders & governments, with the exception in particular of Ireland’s government, who for once are doing the right thing,” Cosgrave stated in his October 13 post. “War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies, and should be called out for what they are.”
Two days later, Cosgrave updated his tweet to also condemn Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, resulting in the deaths of approximately 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians. He characterized it as “outrageous,” “disgusting,” and “an act of monstrous evil.” He emphasized that while Israel has the right to defend itself, it does not have the right to violate international law, reiterating his commitment to the principles of peace and adherence to international law.
In an apology posted on October 17 on the Web Summit blog and shared on his X account, Cosgrave expressed regret, saying, “What is needed at this time is compassion, and I did not convey that… My aim is and always has been to strive for peace.” He continued to assert that all nations, including Israel, should abide by international law and the Geneva Conventions.
Despite these efforts at reconciliation, key sponsors and event headliners, including tech giants Meta, Google, and Stripe, announced their boycott of the Web Summit. In response, the organization intends to proceed with the November event while seeking a new CEO, as confirmed by a statement to The Associated Press news agency.
This development underlines the growing challenges faced by individuals and professionals who express public views on the Israel-Hamas conflict, as many have experienced repercussions for their statements. Recent weeks have seen business executives pledging to blacklist Harvard students associated with groups that hold Israel responsible for the recent violence outbreak. Additionally, several journalists have faced suspensions or job terminations due to posts critical of Israel or expressing pro-Palestinian sentiments.
Human rights advocates argue that the corporate response has downplayed the suffering in Gaza, creating an atmosphere of fear for workers wanting to express support for Palestinians. Furthermore, Jewish groups have criticized tepid responses and delayed reactions to the Hamas attack on October 7.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization in the United States, decried the backlash against students and statements from U.S. corporate leaders for lacking meaningful displays of sympathy toward Palestinian civilians. These combined reactions, the organization contends, are leaving Palestinians and their supporters isolated and fearful of potential consequences for discussing the conflict’s impact on them.
In a letter released on Friday, dozens of Hollywood A-listers, including Cate Blanchett and Susan Sarandon, urged U.S. President Joe Biden to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, further highlighting the international concern surrounding this ongoing conflict.