Orange's CEO Stephane Richard apologizes to Israeli PM Netanyahu. (Haim Zach/GPO) (Haim Zach/GPO)
Richard Netanyahu

Orange telecommunications CEO Stephane Richard flew to Israel from France over the weekend to meet with the Israeli prime minister and apologize for his pro-boycott remarks.

After generating an international storm by stating that he wished to end business ties with the Jewish state, Orange telecommunications CEO Stephane Richard arrived in Israel on Thursday to apologize. He decided to make the trip after being refused an audience with Israel’s ambassador to France, whom he initially approached.

Richard said last Wednesday in Cairo that he wanted to cut business ties with Israel to help gain favor with the Arab world.

He subsequently backtracked, telling France’s BFM television station Monday that his decision was merely a business move and he was “radically opposed to all forms of discrimination. “Israel rejected his apologies, and a furious Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Richard’s “subsequent words of admiration for Israel don’t square with his unequivocally hostile remarks in Cairo.”

Richard met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday in what appeared to be an uncomfortable meeting for both parties.

“It’s no secret that the remarks you made last week were widely seen as an attack on Israel, and so your visit here is an opportunity to set the record straight,” Netanyahu told the head of the French telecommunications giant.

“Israel is the one country in the Middle East that guarantees full civic rights. It’s the one county in the Middle East where everyone is protected under the law, equally,” the Israeli leader said. “We seek a genuine and secure peace with our Palestinian neighbors, but that can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions. It will not be achieved through boycotts and through threats of boycotts,” Netanyahu stressed.

Richard replied by thanking Netanyahu for the opportunity to clarify his statements.

“It’s an honor to meet with you this morning and it gives me also an opportunity to clear up the confusion that was created after those statements. I regret deeply this controversy and I want to make totally clear that Orange as a company has never supported and will never support any kind of boycott against Israel,” Richard clarified.

“We are doing business, we are doing communication, we are here to connect people, certainly not to participate in any kind of boycott. Israel is a fantastic place to be in the digital industry and of course our will is to strengthen and to keep on investing here,” he declared.

Mounting BDS Pressure

Anti Israel BDS

An anti-Israel demonstrator. (A. Katz/Shutterstock)

Orange has long been a target of the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement because its local partner maintains a series of transmission towers in Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. Israeli media have pointed out that Palestinians, including many senior officials, use Orange services as well.

Israel has grown increasingly jittery as the BDS movement appears to be gaining steam, claiming pro-Palestinian activists are not out to promote peace, but instead aim to delegitimize the very existence of the Jewish state.

An official in French President Francois Hollande’s office denied that France had pressured Richard to apologize but that they supported his visit to “clarify the misunderstandings.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with protocol.

The French Foreign Ministry has said that France opposes any boycott of Israel and that it was up to Richard to define the commercial strategy of his company.

By: Max Gelber, United with Israel
AP contributed to this report