Snippy Twitter exchange exposes tech tension over Gaza

Snippy Twitter exchange exposes tech tension over Gaza

Israel supporters upset over tweets about Operation Protective Edge by one of Silicon Valley’s leading lights

Screenshot of Graham's Twitter feed (screenshot)
Screenshot of Graham's Twitter feed (screenshot)

High-tech can claim its first “victim” in the war between Israel and Gaza terrorists. A heated exchange on Twitter between venture capitalist giant Paul Graham and supporters of Israel, could delay plans by Graham’s Y Combinator’s accelerator to recruit in Israel.

Tweets posted by Graham that described the destruction wrought by the IDF in Gaza, but without any citations of Hamas attacks on Israel. That led heavyweight Israeli venture capital figure Roi Carthy to announce he was withdrawing an offer to help Y Combinator (YC) recruit potential participants in Israel.

Y Combinator is considered one of the most prestigious accelerator and start-up venture capital funds in the world. With over 700 start-ups funded since 2005, valued at over $30 billion, acceptance into the program is as close to a guarantee of commercial and funding success as a start-up can hope for. According to Graham, one of the group’s four founders, the average valuation of Y Combinator-backed companies is $45.2 million.

All of the group’s programs take place in Silicon Valley, and Y Combinator generally focuses on American start-ups. Cognizant of the start-up scenes elsewhere, however, the group announced several months ago that it was planning to step up its recruiting elsewhere. Israel was in Y Combinator’s sightsl, and Carthy, a managing partner at Tel Aviv-Sao Paolo investment firm Initial Capital — as well as former Israeli correspondent for the TechCrunch website, which carries stories about Israeli start-ups and tech firms — promised to help get the word out about Y Combinator’s programs to Israeli start-ups.

“A couple of months ago though, I was connected to a YC partner who is planning to be in Israel early August to spread the YC gospel,” Carthy wrote in a blog post. “I was happy to lend a hand by organizing a meet-up at a local bar and getting the word out. “But I am now rescinding my offer,” Carthy wrote. “I will not lend my hand to an organization that is comfortable with its founder criticizing a nation, while at the same time, pitching to incubate its best and brightest.”

Graham, said Carthy, makes no secret of his sympathy for the Palestinian position, while ignoring the context of Israeli responsive actions, such as Israel’s decision to hit Gaza terrorist targets after facing thousands of rockets fired by Hamas terrorists before Operation Protective Edge. “Paul has been making his views known via tweets over the past few years,” wrote Carthy. “Nothing new under the sun in this respect,” he noted.

“It’s not uncommon to accept that an individual’s views do not reflect that of his employer. However, much as it would be unacceptable to separate misogynistic views of a founder from reflecting upon his company, I cannot separate Paul’s continued views about Israel from YC,” Carthy added.

Roi Carthy (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Roi Carthy (Photo credit: Courtesy)

In his Twitter feed, Graham has been retweeting news articles highlighting the suffering in Gaza, as well as photos of injured children and destroyed buildings — opening him up to charges of being anti-Israel by his pro-Israel followers. In response to a one of the posts (with a link to the relevant on-line article), for example, titled “UN Chief Calls IDF Operation In Shejaiya ‘Atrocious Actions,’” readers of the feed wrote comments like “didn’t hear him say much about 50 rockets a day (stored in his UN school) are hitting Israel,” “what do you suggest Israel and its citizens do? Nothing? Ask for more rocket fire?,” “Paul open up and see the efforts of the IDF and how the Palestinians are using children as shields,” and many more.

Such bitter exchanges are in progress in dozens of groups all over social media, escalating in their harshness as the fighting goes on — but usually the anger stays on the screen without concrete consequences like this.

Most people in Israel’s high-tech world avoid politics like the plague, say many involved in the industry. When it comes to money (as in funding for start-ups) and marketing, business is business, as the saying goes. Speaking to The Times of Israel last week, a prominent member of the Israeli tech community — who is an Arab Muslim — refused to discuss how recent events, including the war and the murder of Mohammed al-Khdair, were impacting Israeli Arabs in the Israeli tech world. “We, like everyone else, are praying for peace and quiet,” he said, asking to remain anonymous. “We are very happy working in the Israeli tech industry, and these situations are very uncomfortable for us. The less said about this, the better.”

As for Graham, said Carthy, he has every right to his opinion, but he shouldn’t expect Israelis to sit by quietly without responding. “Paul is entitled to what I believe to be misguided and misinformed opinions,” Carthy wrote. “Rightfully extending this forward, YC should not be entitled to an open-arm welcoming by the Israeli start-up community.” A day after the brouhaha erupted, Carthy told The Times of Israel, Graham had not yet contacted him over the post.

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