Paddy Cosgrave has stepped down as CEO of Web Summit, the 14-year-old conference business that he cofounded and which has gone on to host one of Europe’s biggest annual tech events, along with four other events around the globe.
Following a week of controversy surrounding comments Cosgrave made about Israel and Palestine, he wrote in a statement provided earlier today to TechCrunch that: “I am resigning as CEO of Web Summit with immediate effect. Unfortunately, my personal comments have become a distraction from the event, and our team, our sponsors, our startups and the people who attend. I sincerely apologize again for any hurt I have caused.”
The conference organizers tell TechCrunch they will be appointing a new CEO “as soon as possible” and that “Web Summit 2023 in Lisbon will go ahead as planned.”
The move comes on the heels of a series of remarks from Cosgrave — in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, wherein 1,400 mostly civilians were killed and more than 4,000 were injured — that set off a chain of angry responses from Israelis and increasingly a wider swath of people throughout the technology community.
Initially writing that he was shocked at the rhetoric and actions of “so many Western leaders & governments” as Israel planned its counterstrike, and that “war crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies, and should be called out for what they are,” Cosgrave’s comments prompted widespread outrage, with numerous venture capitalists and founders vowing to never again speak at one of Web Summit’s events.
Among them was David Marcus, the longtime fintech entrepreneur and Meta executive, who last Sunday wrote on X : “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.”
Cosgrave appeared to walk back his statement this past Monday, writing, “We are devastated to see the terrible killings and the level of innocent civilian casualties in Israel and Gaza. We condemn the attacks by Hamas and extend our deepest sympathies to everyone who has lost loved ones. We hope for peaceful reconciliation.” But he subsequently dug in his heels, tweeting soon afterward: “To repeat: War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies & should be called out for what they are. I will not relent.”
As pressure mounted, Cosgrave later apologized on Web Summit’s site, writing, “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.”
But the damage was seemingly done. In addition to a growing boycott of the event by prominent individuals, a number of corporates also began to drop out of Web Summit, which kicks off its signature show in a little more than three weeks.
Yesterday, Alphabet and Meta said that they were pulling out of the progam; before them, Intel, Siemens and Stripe announced they were also dropping out of the event.
Last year, Web Summit attracted more than 70,000 attendees over three days.