By Michael Teich
American businesses withdrawing from Saudi Arabia's Future Investment Initiative conference are hypocritical for boycotting the kingdom after the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, said Axios business editor Dan Primack.
"I'm not sure they all internalize or recognize [that]," Primack said Monday in an interview on Cheddar.
"Where were they when the Saudis were basically encouraging or creating a famine in Yemen? Where were they when they were jailing activists? There's all this talk that women are now allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, which is great, but a lot of women who advocated for that in Saudi Arabia are still in jail," Primack said. "Yet everyone was willing to go to this conference two weeks ago."
A number of high-profile names in business have already excused themselves from the conference, including Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, JPMorgan ($JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon, BlackRock ($BLK) CEO Larry Fink, and Mastercard ($MA) CEO Ajaypal Banga.
But Primack said Wall Street and Silicon Valley shouldn't be leading the charge against Saudi Arabia.
"The problem here is it should be the White House taking the lead here," he said. "If they put sanctions, it gives businesses some sort of, not only PR cover, but also structural cover. It can maybe even get out of deals because there are sanctions put on by the government."
Canceling a trip to the finance conference in Riyadh is a necessary first step, but it will be crucial to examine the businesses' actual relationships to Saudi Arabia beyond this event, Primack said.
The Blackstone Group's ($BX) founder and CEO Stephen Schwarzman, declared Monday he would no longer be attending the event, which is hosted by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund.
But, as Primack noted, "Blackstone has gotten a commitment of about $20 billion from the Saudi government for a new global infrastructure fund it's raising."
"Blackstone has earnings Thursday, and they're going to have to address this," he said.
For full interview click here.