The French telecommunications giant Orange on Thursday followed up on its CEO’s endorsement of ending the company’s dealings in Israel by confirming that Orange plans to cut ties with Partner Communications Ltd., its affiliate that provides cell phone service in the Jewish state.
At the same time, Orange denied that its decision is politically motivated.
“The Orange Group is a telecoms operator and as such its primary concern is to defend and promote the value of its brand in markets in which it is present. The Group does not engage in any kind of political debate under any circumstance,” the company said in a statement.
Orange added, “This agreement [in Israel], which was signed prior to the acquisition of Orange by France Telecom in 2000, is the only long-term brand license agreement within the Orange Group. In line with its brand development strategy, Orange does not wish to maintain the presence of the brand in countries in which it is not, or is no longer, an operator. In this context, and while strictly adhering to existing agreements, the Group ultimately wishes to end this brand license agreement.”
Orange CEO Stephane Richard had said at a news conference in Egypt on Wednesday that he would have the company pull out of Israel as soon as “tomorrow,” but wasn’t yet prepared to make that move. French advocacy groups had been pressuring Orange to end ties with its Israeli affiliate.
“I am ready to abandon this (business in Israel) tomorrow morning, but the point is that I want to secure the legal risk for the company,” Richard said Wednesday. “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.”
In Egypt, a campaign to boycott Orange claims that the company sponsors Israel Defense Forces units.
“I know that it is a sensitive issue here in Egypt, but not only in Egypt,” said Richard, who added, “We want to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the French government, which has a 25-percent stake in Orange, “to publicly renounce the unfortunate remarks and actions” of the company.
“At the same time, I call on our closest friends to say out loud that they oppose every kind of boycott against the Jewish state,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli Economy and Trade Minister Aryeh Deri said, “Boycotts will not succeed in imposing anything on Israel—the only way is communication and negotiations.” Former finance minister Yair Lapid, the leader of Israel’s Yesh Atid party, called Richard’s comments “hypocrisy of the highest order.”
“I don’t remember [Richard] having a problem making money here and profiting from Israeli citizens,” Lapid said. “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.”