The CEO of a leading technology conference has stepped down after a wave of backlash over public statements he made accusing Israel of committing “war crimes” and breaching international law.
Paddy Cosgrave, a co-founder of the European tech conference Web Summit which brings together thousands of leading tech startups and firms in Lisbon, Portugal, resigned on Saturday after receiving blowback from sponsors and attendees. He said his personal views had become a “distraction from the event” and apologised for “any hurt” he had caused.
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Cosgrave, an Irish entrepreneur who founded Web Summit in 2009, took to the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, to weigh in on Israel’s ongoing bombing campaign in Gaza, which local authorities say has so far killed more than about 4,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and devastated much of the territory’s infrastructure.
“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 said in his post on October 13. “War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies, and should be called out for what they are.”
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.
— Paddy Cosgrave (@paddycosgrave) October 13, 2023
Two days later, Cosgrave updated his tweet to also condemn Hamas’s October 7 onslaught on Israel, which killed some 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, calling it “outrageous”, “disgusting” and “an act of monstrous evil”
He added: “Israel has a right to defend itself, but it does not, as I have already stated, have a right to break international law.”
First, what Hamas did is outrageous and disgusting. It is by every measure an act of monstrous evil. Israel has a right to defend itself, but it does not, as I have already stated, have a right to break international law.
Second, here’s the host of the most watched chat show in… pic.twitter.com/HDdl2MrgfC
— Paddy Cosgrave (@paddycosgrave) October 15, 2023
In a later apology posted on October 17 on the Web Summit blog and shared on his X account, Cosgrave said, “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 went on to say, “I also believe that, in defending itself, 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.”
The follow-up posts were not enough to win over a list of key sponsors and event headliners who announced they would boycott the event, including tech heavyweights Meta, Google, and Stripe.
Web Summit plans to go forward with the November event while hiring a new CEO, it told The Associated Press news agency.
Cosgrave’s resignation comes as many students and professionals face blowback for their public views on the Israel-Hamas war.
In recent weeks, more than a dozen business executives have pledged to blacklist Harvard students who belong to groups that signed a letter blaming Israel for the latest outbreak of violence, while several journalists have been suspended or fired due to posts that are critical of Israel or express pro-Palestinian views.
Rights advocates say much of the corporate response has minimised the suffering in Gaza and created an atmosphere of fear for workers who want to express support for Palestinians. Jewish groups have criticised tepid responses or slow reactions to the Hamas attack on October 7.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organisation in the country, denounced the backlash against the students and statements from US corporate leaders that “lack any meaningful display of sympathy toward Palestinian civilians”.
Those reactions combined, the organisation said, are leaving “Palestinians and those in support of Palestinian human rights isolated at their place of work and fearful of possible consequences” for discussing how the conflict has affected them.
In a letter released on Friday, dozens of Hollywood A-listers, including Cate Blanchett and Susan Sarandon, urged US President Joe Biden to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.