Tech leaders angry at Web Summit co-founder for remarks over Israel

The state of Israel and several tech leaders have withdrawn their attendance from Web Summit, an annual technology conference held in Lisbon, after the brand’s co-founder accused Israel of war crimes.

Paddy Cosgrave, an Irish entrepreneur and the co-founder of Web Summit, the big tech conference brand, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he was shocked that Western leaders didn’t call out war crimes that Israel is allegedly committing.

Cosgrave did not clarify specific war crimes he was accusing Israel of committing. However, international legal experts are warning that both sides have likely committed war crimes – Hamas intentionally targeted civilians, and Israel is forcing people of Gaza from their homes.

After Hamas fighters attacked towns and villages in Southern Israel on October 7th, and killed at least 1,400 people, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government formally declared war on Hamas a day later and responded with retaliatory airstrikes.

More than 2,600 people have died during the bombing, and an Israeli siege has cut off Gazans from critical resources like water or food. About half a million people have also fled northern Gaza for the south following Israel’s evacuation notices last week.

The would-be participants of the tech conference were quick to react to Cosgrave’s statement. Dor Shapira, Israel’s ambassador to Portugal, a country where one of the Web Summits takes place each year, immediately announced that his country would no longer participate in the conference.

“Even during these difficult times, he is unable to set aside his extreme political views and denounce the Hamas terrorist activities against innocent people,” Shapira wrote on X, denouncing Cosgrave’s post.

Shapira also said that “dozens” of companies have chosen to skip Lisbon's Web Summit over Cosgrave’s remarks. Among those are Y Combinator, AI21 Labs, Tome, Taboola, and others.

A full and growing list of cancellations has been posted online. Many firms represent Israel’s well-connected tech industry, arguably the country’s best-known export.

“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,” wrote David Marcus, CEO of Lightspark and former PayPal and Meta executive.

Cosgrave did add an addendum to his original tweet over the weekend, condemning Hamas attacks as “outrageous and disgusting.” But he stressed that Israel still didn’t have a right to break international law.

“To repeat: War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies & should be called out for what they are. I will not relent,” said Cosgrave after again condemning attacks by Hamas on Monday and expressing hope for a peaceful reconciliation.

Last year’s Web Summit attracted around 71,000 participants to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. The brand also holds similar conferences in Rio de Janeiro, Doha, Toronto, and Hong Kong.