Stephane Richard. (AP/Thomas Hartwell) (AP/Thomas Hartwell)
Stephane Richard

Orange CEO Stephane Richard will visit Israel after he and his company produced mixed messages about their intention to stay in the Israeli market in light of Arab and French anti-Israel pressure.

Orange CEO brings back Arab League Boycott

Orange CEO Stephane Richard in Cairo. (AP/Thomas Hartwell)

Orange CEO Stephane Richard will visit Israel in order to “clarify the misunderstanding” caused by his statements in Cairo that his company plans to quit the Israeli market as soon as possible.

According to an Orange spokesman, Richard will “soon” meet with the Israeli government to “clarify the misunderstanding” and “provide all the necessary provisions to put an end to this controversy and reaffirm the group’s commitment.” Richard had attempted to meet with the Israeli ambassador to France, but Prime Minister Netanyahu instructed the embassy to refuse him and to suggest he visit Israel instead.

Hoping to become “one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries,” Richard enraged Israelis last week during a visit to Egypt in which he indicated that Orange will end its branding agreement with Israel’s Partner Communications as soon as it could do so without risking major financial penalties. The Egyptian branch of the BDS Movement has been urging Egyptians to boycott the local Orange franchise, Mobinil, due to its business relationship with Israel. The company has also come under pressure from anti-Israel activists in France since Partner provides cell service to “settlers” – Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria.

“If you take [Partner’s branding fee] on one side and on the other side the time that we spend to explain [the relationship with Partner], 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,” Richard said.

Orange and its CEO have since backtracked on these comments. “Orange does not support any form of boycott in Israel or anywhere else in the world,” Richard claimed in a statement emailed to AFP. “Our decision on the use of the brand is motivated – as it is all over the world – solely by our brand strategy. Let me make it very clear that the Orange Group is in Israel to stay.”

Orange protest Israel

Partner employees protest by covering Orange logos with Israeli flags. (AP/Dan Balilty)

Despite these apparent peace overtures, Orange appears to still be intent on ending the branding agreement with Partner as part of a policy not to allow the Orange brand to be used by operators over which it has no control, as is the case with Partner.

Partner’s controlling owner, Haim Saban, called Orange’s claims of being apolitical “a blatant lie” in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2. Similarly, the Prime Minister’s Office quoted Netanyahu as saying, “[Richard’s] subsequent words of admiration for Israel clearly don’t square with the unequivocally hostile remarks he made in Cairo.”

By: Sara Abramowicz, United with Israel