OpinionAntisemitism

Qatar’s tech conference for antisemites

A rogues’ gallery of haters will attend Web Summit Qatar.

Doha, Qatar. Credit: Pixabay.
Doha, Qatar. Credit: Pixabay.
Benjamin Baird
Benjamin Baird is director of MEF Action, an advocacy project of the Middle East Forum.

The biggest tech conference in Europe is coming to the Middle East from Feb. 26-29, bringing together thousands of investors and startups in what is billed as a “tech utopia” bursting with “digital optimism.”

Tech enthusiasts should beware. The first-ever Web Summit Qatar will take place in the shining mega-city of Doha, where Hamas billionaires live in luxury amid millions of exploited migrant workers. Against this backdrop of haves and have-nots, Web Summit Qatar promises to provide a playground for ultra-rich tech moguls and investors who, in addition to their immense wealth, share a burning disdain for the region’s only real democracy: Israel. 

A stunning number of investors and tech experts advertised as speaking at the Doha conference are on record promoting viciously antisemitic tropes. From gleefully celebrating the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre to comparing Israel to Nazi Germany and calling Israelis “retards” and “psychopath[s],” Web Summit Qatar’s VIPs have voiced opinions that would ruin the careers of their Western counterparts and doom their companies to failure.

In fact, that is precisely what happened to Web Summit’s own co-founder and CEO, Paddy Cosgrave, who posted a comparison of Israeli and Palestinian casualty figures on Oct. 7 and followed it up with a post accusing Israel of “war crimes.”

Pushback was swift and fierce. Cosgrave was forced to resign after Web Summit began hemorrhaging major sponsors, including Amazon, Google, Intel and Meta. Dozens of smaller tech companies, venture capitalists and guest speakers followed suit.

“I’ll never be part of your future initiatives and we’ll never work together again,” Adam Singolda, the Israeli-American founder of the advertising company Taboola, wrote to Cosgrave.

For a Middle East conference geared towards launching and promoting startups, moreover, Web Summit Qatar is noticeably devoid of entrepreneurs hailing from Israel—the “startup nation.”

Nevertheless, Cosgrave’s exit appeared to assuage the concerns of many tech enthusiasts, with a record-breaking crowd attending Web Summit’s flagship conference last November in Lisbon. The goodwill appears set to continue at Web Summit Qatar. Attendees don’t seem to be troubled by Qatar’s anti-homosexuality laws, its abuse of migrant workers or its open sponsorship of international terrorist groups. Nor do they appear to be bothered by the participation of the state-owned media conglomerate Al Jazeera, whose reporters were recently accused of participating in the Oct. 7 massacre. 

By January, all seemed forgiven for the conference host after it was announced that star comedian Trevor Noah would headline the event. Major partners such as Meta have returned and the hosts anticipate a sold-out venue with more than 12,000 attendees, far exceeding early estimates.

However, tech leaders may want to reconsider attending an event that provides a platform to so many speakers and influencers who openly express contemptible views.   

For starters, consider Lebanese chef and influencer Abir El Saghir, who celebrated on Oct. 7 by handing out Palestinian-themed candy and flags to jubilant passersby. El Saghir has also accused Israel of “genocides” and repeated the genocidal slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

El Saghir will be joined at Web Summit Qatar by Hamad Al-Hajri. Founder of the Qatari online delivery service Snoonu, Al-Hajri has smeared Israelis as the “new Nazis” and said he will “not invest in any startup that operated in #Israel.” Al-Hajri even thanked Cosgrave for the tone-deaf comments that led to his ouster, penning a brief tribute that referred to the Israel-Hamas war as “nothing short of a #genocide.”

Venture capitalist Fady Ghandour, executive chairman of Wamda Capital, has posted anti-Israel screeds on LinkedIn that are remarkably similar to the slurs that forced Cosgrave’s resignation. He accused Israel of “war crimes” and regularly resorted to body-count contests to slam the Jewish state. 

Adwa Al Dakheel, founder and CEO of Falak Investment Hub, has referred to Israelis as “retards” and “Israelies,” a play on words vilifying Israelis as liars. Omani investor Mohammed Al Rasbi posted Holocaust images in a 2014 tweet comparing Israel to Germany in 1940.

Even Trevor Noah, comedian Jon Stewart’s disappointing replacement on The Daily Show, has his own history of antisemitic commentary and engaged in the same contest of casualties that cost Cosgrave his job.

When presented with evidence of conference speakers posting antisemitic content to social media, Web Summit promised to investigate but did not respond.

Web Summit Qatar illustrates the perils of doing business in a country that provides a safe haven to international terrorists. If Paddy Cosgrave was forced to resign for his hateful commentary, why is the same or worse behavior tolerated among Middle Eastern CEOs and influencers?

Whatever the answer, investors and innovators should stay far away from Web Summit’s Doha disaster.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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