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

Orange’s CEO Stephane Richard tried to backtrack on his inflammatory statements about boycotting Israel, but his attempts have been rejected in Israel.

Israeli employees cover Orange logos

Israeli employees cover Orange logo with an Israeli flag.(AP/Dan Balilty)

Orange CEO Stephane Richard stated that he “sincerely” regretted the controversy that his call to pull his company out of Israel has generated, saying the French telecommunications group “is in Israel to stay.” However, the Israeli Partner Communications company, affiliated with Orange, rejected his professed esteem for Israel as evasive tactics.

Richard denied on Saturday that the company’s decision to end its brand-licensing agreement with Partner, Israel’s second largest mobile operator, “as soon as possible from a contractual point of view,” in any way implied that Orange was seeking to withdraw. “Orange does not support any form of boycott, in Israel or anywhere else in the world,” he wrote in an email to AFP.

Richard set off an international scandal when he stated on Wednesday to reporters in Cairo he was ready to “withdraw the Orange brand from Israel” and wants to end his company’s relationship with Israel because of “sensitivity to Arab countries.”

“Our intention is to withdraw from Israel. It will take time,” but “for sure we will do it,” Richard said during an interview with the Egyptian Daily News.

A furious Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the decision by Orange as “miserable.”

Netanyahu said that Richard’s “subsequent words of admiration for Israel don’t square with his unequivocally hostile remarks in Cairo.”

Israeli officials said the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement aims to delegitimize the Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state. “It’s not about this or that Israeli policy. It’s about our right to exist here as a free people,” Netanyahu said in remarks sent to journalists.

France’s foreign minister criticized “any boycott of Israel,” following Orange’s announcement that it wants to cut ties with Israel.

Laurent Fabius said in a statement Friday that it is up to Orange to determine its business strategy, but “France is firmly opposed to a boycott of Israel.”

It’s unclear whether the French government, with a 25 percent stake in Orange, would try to influence the company’s actions in Israel.

Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban, a primary shareholder in Partner, vowed on Saturday to fight back against Orange and charged that its actions were motivated by anti-Semitism.

In Israel, Richard’s apology was rejected. Speaking to IDF Radio, Partner CEO Haim Romano said that Orange has refused their attempts at dialogue. “We turned to France Telecom [Orange] and asked them to meet for the purpose of negotiating on our mutual future,” Romano said. So far, they have been unsuccessful in establishing a line of dialogue with the French company, he said.

Partner believes that Orange’s decision to divest from Israel is irreversible and that his apology was merely a “smoke cloud” in an attempt to turn public opinion back in the company’s favor.

“His offensive statements, apologies, vague wording and evasiveness continue to cause enormous damage to the Orange brand in Israel and harm Israeli citizens,” AFP quotes the Israeli company as stating.

By: United with Israel Staff
(AP contributed to this report.)