Orange CEO Stephane Richard in Cairo. (AP/Thomas Hartwell) (AP/Thomas Hartwell)
Orange CEO brings back Arab League Boycott

The CEO of France’s telecom company Orange told reporters in Egypt that he would withdraw from Israel as soon as possible, saying that he does not want to contribute to the settlement issue.



In a move reminiscent of the Arab League Boycott, Stephane Richard, CEO of French telecom Orange, told reporters that he intends to withdraw his company from the Israeli market as soon as possible. He expressed a desire to be sensitive to Orange’s Arab partners, including Egyptian franchisee Mobinil, which he said are far more profitable than Israel’s Partner Communications.

“Our intention is to withdraw from Israel,” Richard said. “I am ready to abandon this tomorrow morning but the point is that I want to secure the legal risk for the company. I want to terminate this, once again, but I don’t want to expose Orange to a level of risk and of penalties that could be really sizable for the company.”

The CEO further explained, “Sorry to say, but a dispute with [a] partner when you have zero legal position in Israeli courts is not something that I would recommend for my company. I am not going to pay hundreds of millions of euros only because I would have [to] take a risk, a huge risk, in terms of the penalties that we could have if we entered into this kind of brutal process.”

“I know that it is a sensitive issue here in Egypt, but not only in Egypt…. We want to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries,” he said, noting that the brand fees Orange earns in Israel are so low that the “interest for us is certainly not a financial interest.”

Richard also mentioned pressure from anti-Israel activists in France as a reason for his desire to withdraw from Israel. “If you take those amounts [5.7 million euros in annual royalties from Israel] and on the other side the time that we spend to explain this, to try to find a solution and the consequences that we have to manage here but also in France, believe me, it’s a very bad deal,” he said.

Orange’s relationship with Partner Communications dates back to the 1990s, when Orange was acquired by French Telecom. Orange faced protests when Partner adopted the IDF’s Ezuz tank battalion, which participated in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza last summer. In particular, BDS Egypt has called on Egyptians to boycott Mobinil, an Orange franchise with 10 times as many subscribers as the Israeli franchise. The BDS movement aims to destroy Israel through economic warfare.

Partner Communications reacted angrily to the press conference. Owner Haim Saban said, “I’m proud to hold the controlling stake in Partner, which is an Israeli-owned company that leases the Orange brand. Threats won’t deter me and I will continue to work on behalf of Israel and lead the global struggle in support of Israel.”

Outgoing CEO Haim Romano expressed disappointment, saying, “We regret the words. Partner has held the Orange franchise since 1998 when it was under the ownership of Hong Kong’s Hutchison group. Partner will continue to loyally serve its customers in Israel without discrimination or prejudice.” He added that Partner is not owned by Orange, but licenses its name only, and that he hopes his company will not be injured by the Orange CEO’s comments.

Israeli political leaders have also weighed in on the press conference. “I must admit to have been taken aback by these reports which do not become a responsible global company such as Orange,” said deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in a letter seen by AFP. “I am confident that these reports do not reflect the intent of your company. I therefore urge you to clarify the matter as soon as possible.”

Yair Lapid of the opposition Yesh Atid party described Richard’s comments as “hypocrisy of the highest order,” adding, “I don’t remember [Richards] having a problem making money here and profiting from Israeli citizens. The State of Israel is an island of sanity in this difficult neighborhood and we certainly won’t accept lessons in morality from someone so self-righteous and detached.”

Israeli minister says Orange CEO should be fired

An Israeli Cabinet minister has called on the French president to fire the chief executive of French telecom giant Orange.

Culture Minister Miri Regev issued her appeal on Thursday, a day after Orange’s CEO announced in Cairo that he would like to sever his company’s ties to Israel as soon as possible. He cited the country’s sensitivity to Arab countries.

Regev says French President Francois Hollande should show “zero tolerance” for what she calls anti-Semitism. She also urged Jewish customers of Orange around the world to change carriers.

The French government, which cooperates behind the scenes with Israel, but is overtly supportive of the Palestinian position, holds a 13.45 percent stake in Orange.

By: Sara Abramowicz, United with Israel