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The controversy over Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrove’s posts on X (formerly Twitter) about the Israel-Palestine crisis is not subsiding anytime soon, despite his recent public apology.
This week, major global tech brands including Google, Meta, Stripe, Intel, and Siemens have all decided not to attend this year’s edition of the premier European tech conference in Lisbon, Portugal, scheduled for November 13 through 16, according to The Irish Times. Google was one of the event’s leading sponsors, according to its website.
Web Summit — held annually since 2009 when it began as a small, grassroots inaugural meetup of tech enthusiasts in Dublin, Ireland, organized by Cosgrove, David Kelly, and Daire Hickey — has grown into Europe’s largest tech conference by attendance, and is known for bringing together both the startup and larger multinational scenes for networking and talks.
Cosgrove, who is Irish, posted on X on October 13: “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. War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies, and should be called out for what they are.”
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Many took his comments to be in reference to Israel’s response to the October 7 surprise dawn attacks by Hamas terrorists on Israeli civilians at a music festival and in several towns, which involved mass deaths and kidnappings of the civilians. As a result, Israel swiftly declared war on the Hamas terrorist group based in Gaza and ordered the evacuation of Palestinians living in northern Gaza, cutting off water and electricity to residents there as it performs military aerial strikes and prepares for a ground invasion. So far, 1,400 people in Israel have been killed and 3,700 in Gaza since this round of fighting began, according to NBC News. As VentureBeat has reported, some Israeli startup engineers and employees have been called back up to serve as reserves.
Several tech leaders responded to Cosgrove’s comments on the situation by quickly canceling their scheduled attendances at Web Summit in protest, among them Garry Tan, president and CEO of Y combinator, and Ori Goshen, co-founder of AI21 Labs.
Following those cancellations, Cosgrove published a written apology post on the Web Summit website earlier this week on October 17, stating: “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. 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.”
However, he also doubled down on his assertion that “Israel should adhere to international law and the Geneva Conventions – ie, not commit war crimes. This belief applies equally to any state in any war. No country should breach these laws, even if atrocities were committed against it.”
He also attempted to explain his comments saying: “In my comments, I have tried to do exactly the same as [U.S.] Secretary [of State] Blinken and so many others globally: urge Israel in its response to the Hamas atrocities not to cross the boundaries of international law.”
Clearly, however well-intentioned, Cosgrove’s apology was not enough to keep big names in tech from pulling out of Web Summit 2023. It is unclear if they will return next year as the event hosts a new forum in Qatar.
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