Orange in Israel ‘for good’ says CEO amid row
The chairman of Orange said this weekend that the French telecoms group was in Israel “to stay” as a row raged over the group’s plan to review its business ties with an Israeli telecoms firm.
Stephane Richard told AFP he “sincerely regrets” the furor sparked Wednesday when he said in Cairo that Orange would end its brand-licensing agreement with Partner, Israel’s second- largest mobile operator.
The Orange boss’s comments touched a raw nerve in Israel, which is growing increasingly concerned about global boycott efforts and the impact on its image abroad.
A furious Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the move by France’s part state-owned telecoms group as “miserable.”
The Orange boss said earlier this week that the move was not political, but his Cairo remarks came after the May 6 publication of a report accusing the telecoms giant of indirectly supporting Jewish settlement activity through its relationship with Partner.
Compiled by five mainly French NGOs and two trade unions, the report accused Partner of building on confiscated Palestinian land, and urged Orange to cut business ties and publicly declare its desire to avoid contributing to the economic viability of the settlements.
The international community regards all Israeli construction on Palestinian land seized during the 1967 Six-Day War as illegal.
In a statement to AFP on Saturday, Richard reiterated that Orange’s review of its ties with Partner were not political.
“Orange does not support any form of boycott, in Israel or anywhere else in the world,” Richard told AFP in an email.
“Our decision on the use of the brand is motivated — as it is all over the world — solely by our brand strategy,” he said.
“Let me make it very clear that the Orange Group is in Israel to stay.”
He noted that Orange is present in Israel through two subsidiaries, Orange Business Services and ViaccessOrca, a specialist in Internet television. Orange and Partner agreed in April to have their previously openended licence expire on March 31, 2025.
But Partner issued a statement late Saturday dismissing Richard’s latest conciliatory comments, saying it was outraged that he had not been in contact with them himself.
The spat follows a high-profile diplomatic row in December when lawmakers in France — which supports the European Union’s opposition to settlement-building — voted in favor of recognizing Palestine as a state.
Israeli flags are seen inside the “Partner Orange” Communications Company offices in the city of Rosh Haain, Israel on Thursday, June 4.