The chief executive of Web Summit, one of Europe’s biggest technology conferences, stepped down on Saturday after major sponsors and speakers withdrew from the event, set for next month, following backlash over his public criticism of Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks.
Paddy Cosgrave, the Irish entrepreneur who founded Web Summit in 2009, announced his resignation after companies including Google, Intel, Meta, Siemens and the payments giant Stripe — many of whom were set to have executives speak at the event — said they were no longer coming.
“Unfortunately, my personal comments have become a distraction from the event, and our team, our sponsors, our start-ups and the people who attend,” he said in a statement. “I sincerely apologize again for any hurt I have caused.”
A spokeswoman for Web Summit said that the organization aimed to appoint a new chief executive as soon as possible. The event, which is scheduled to start on Nov. 13, is still set to go forward.
Mr. Cosgrave’s move was meant to insulate Web Summit, which runs events across the globe. Its flagship conference, which is now held in Lisbon, drew about 70,000 attendees last year and speakers that included both senior tech executives and celebrities.
Since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, business leaders have taken aim at institutions that they said have been associated with unfair criticisms of Israel, or worse. In the United States, wealthy donors have threatened to withhold donations to schools like the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard.
Web Summit’s troubles began just over a week after Mr. Cosgrave criticized Western leaders and governments for supporting Israel as it responded to the Hamas raid. “War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies, and should be called out for what they are,” he wrote on X on Oct. 13.
His comments drew rebukes from prominent technology executives, particularly those from Israel. “I’ll never be part of your future initiatives and we’ll never work together again,” Adam Singolda, the Israeli-born founder of the advertising company Taboola, replied.
Some tech executives worked behind the scenes to pressure participants to withdraw. And a group of Israeli technology and venture capital firms wrote in a public letter that they were boycotting the event, according to the trade publication Calcalist.
Initially, Mr. Cosgrave alternately struck both apologetic and defensive tones, condemning the Hamas attacks but also repeating his criticism of Israel’s military campaign. But by Tuesday, he published an apology on Web Summit’s site in which he said he defended “Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself.”
That did not appear to allay Mr. Cosgrave’s critics.
Starting midweek, tech giants announced that they would not be participating in the conference. And figures outside of technology who were initially listed as speakers at the event, including the actors Gillian Anderson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, were no longer mentioned on Web Summit’s site as of Saturday.
Whether Mr. Cosgrave’s departure is enough to bring back those who have withdrawn is unclear. Representatives for Intel and Deel, a global payroll company that pulled its sponsorship of Web Summit midweek, said there currently weren’t plans to return.
Some critics also questioned on Saturday whether Mr. Cosgrave still retains his majority stake in Web Summit. His stake stood at 81 percent as of last summer, according to company filings in Ireland. A representative for Web Summit did not respond to requests for comment on his ownership.
It is unclear how many people will attend this year, though Web Summit said on Friday that the event expected about 70,000 people, the same as last year.