Tech leaders boycott Europe’s biggest tech confab over criticism of Israeli response

Israeli firms withdraw from next month’s Web Summit after its CEO expressed ‘shock’ over Western support for IDF operations in Gaza, which he suggested amounted to war crimes

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Entrepreneurs gather at the Web Summit at Parque das Nacoes, in Lisbon on November 9, 2016. (AFP/ Patricia de Melo Moreira)
Entrepreneurs gather at the Web Summit at Parque das Nacoes, in Lisbon on November 9, 2016. (AFP/ Patricia de Melo Moreira)

Leading Israeli tech entrepreneurs and investors are canceling their participation in Europe’s biggest tech conference, next month’s Web Summit, after the annual event’s founder appeared to accuse Israel of committing “war crimes” in its response to the Hamas terror group’s devastating onslaught.

A string of Israeli-founded tech unicorns and startups, including Wiz, Taboola, Lightricks, Bright Data, AI21 Labs, OpenWeb, and startup accelerator Y Combinator, have already announced their withdrawal from the tech conference, which gathers around 70,000 industry leaders, venture capitalists and startup hopefuls in Lisbon, Portugal, every November.

The controversy began after Paddy Cosgrave, CEO of Web Summit, posted on social media platform X on Friday that he was “shocked at the rhetoric and actions of so many Western leaders and governments” relating to the Israel Defense Force’s military operation across the Gaza Strip aimed at dismantling its ruler, Hamas. Six days earlier, on Saturday, the terror group launched a shock assault on southern communities in Israel, killing some 1,300 people, mostly civilians including babies and the elderly, injuring more than 4,000, and taking about 200 captives.

“War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies, and should be called out for what they are,” Cosgrave asserted.

Israel has largely held off on allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza as it seeks to pressure Hamas to release hostages, and has urged residents of northern Gaza to evacuate their homes and go southward ahead of a ground operation.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden will make a wartime visit to Israel on Wednesday, in the latest demonstration of Washington’s overwhelming support for Jerusalem following the Hamas attack.

Palestinians at the site of an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, October 17, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

AI21 Labs CEO Ori Goshen, who was scheduled to be a keynote speaker at Web Summit Lisbon, called Cosgrave’s comments “abhorrent.”

“Beheading (Israeli) babies in front of their captive parents, raping women and parading them through Gaza’s streets, burning entire families alive, executing elderly women, filming all these horrors and gleefully posting them to social media, including on victims’ phones for their loved ones to see – but as immoral as that is, Paddy Cosgrave chose to not only ignore these but instead post something against the policies of the Israeli government,” Goshen said in a LinkedIn post.  “We at AI21 cannot be part of such indecency and moral bankruptcy.”

“We will not attend Web Summit, and I will not give the keynote,” he said.

Taboola founder and CEO Adam Singolda expressed his sadness to read Cosgrave’s comments.

“A week into the war, when mothers are seeing their babies burned alive by terrorists, when nearly 200 people are still kept hostage, away from their families, when Hamas which is worse than ISIS and Nazis combined because even Hitler didn’t burn babies… is just not a good time Paddy to be ‘right,’ and you’re just wrong,” Singolda said. “I’m hopeful that you’ll consider changing your ways so humanity gets to witness there is good in all of us.”

“I’ll never be part of your future initiatives and we’ll never work together again and and the truth is that I don’t matter as I’m only one Israeli guy, living in America, out of thousands who go to Web Summit – but I’ll feel better about myself and that matters too,” he said.

Keren, mother of Mia Schem, and representatives of the families of the abducted and missing persons held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza hold a press conference following the release of a video by Hamas, in which the 21-year-old Israeli woman is seen, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

On Oct. 7, the day the war broke out, Cosgrove shared United Nations data on the human cost of the Israel-Palestine conflict between 2008 and 2023, making no reference at all to the atrocities perpetrated that day by Hamas in Israel.

In response to the backlash from the tech community, Cosgrave in a Sunday post said that what Hamas did was “outrageous and disgusting” and that Israel had the right to defend itself, but emphasized that he was not going to “relent” over his comments that the country doesn’t have a right to “break international law.”

Israel’s Ambassador to Portugal Dor Shapira called Cosgrave’s comments “outrageous,” adding that he had written to the mayor of Lisbon to inform him that Israel will not participate in the Web Summit conference.

“Dozens of companies have already canceled their participation in this conference, and we encourage more to do so,” Shapira said. “We should have zero tolerance for terrorism and terror acts.”

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