The controlling shareholder of the Israeli mobile network that operates under the Orange name in Israel struck back at the French company’s CEO over comments he made indicating his readiness to sever ties with the Israeli operator.
Haim Saban, chairman and CEO of Saban Capital Group Inc., said in a message on Tuesday, “Threats will not deter me, I will continue to operate in Israel and lead the battle for Israel in the world.
“I am proud to be the controlling shareholder in Partner, which is an Israeli company that leases the Orange brand,” said the Egyptian-born businessman.
His comments came as Orange CEO Stephane Richard said he would cancel the contract with Partner as soon as possible were his company not legally bound otherwise, drawing international condemnation by Jewish groups and Israeli officials.
“Our intention is to withdraw from Israel,” Richard on Wednesday told Daily News Egypt. “It will take time … for sure we will do it … I am ready to do this tomorrow morning.”
Partner under Orange represents one of Israel’s biggest cell network providers, along with Pelephone and Cellcom.
The Orange CEO’s comments stem from criticisms especially in Europe of the French mobile giant for providing coverage to Israelis living in the West Bank, in areas which Palestinians claim for a future state.
But critics say Richard may be antisemitic and supporting the wider campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions from Israel.
Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev called on French President Francois Hollande to sack the Orange CEO.
“In light of the recent serious events in France, the French government must show zero tolerance for antisemitism,” she said, referring to several violent attacks this year rooted in antisemitism, such as the siege at a Paris Kosher supermarket by a lone gunman that left four hostages dead.
Former finance minister and Knesset party chairman Yair Lapid called on the French government, which owns substantial shares in the company, to distance itself from Richard’s comments.
“This is hypocrisy of the highest order. I don’t remember him 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. I call upon the French government, which owns a substantial amount of shares in Orange, to distance itself from the irresponsible statements of the CEO.”
He called on Israeli officials to drum up a “professional response” to what he said was the growing threat of anti-Israel boycotts.
Jewish rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center demanded an “apology” from Richard and admonished the French government over his remarks.
“Orange divestment from Israel justified as ‘wanting to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries,’ evokes 1930s Western companies seeking to be ‘partners of the Nazis’ or those currently eager for sanctions busting trade with Iran,” said the center in a statement.
A near immediate #boycottorange campaign was also launched on social media following the Egyptian report of Richard’s comments, with many posting a mock Orange logo containing either the iconic yellow Jude star worn by Jews during Nazi occupation, or the Islamic State insignia.