JERUSALEM (JTA) — The chairman of the French telecom company Orange reversed his comments about leaving Israel, saying the company “is in Israel to stay.”
Stephane Richard in an interview Saturday with the French news agency AFP denied that his company’s decision to end a brand-licensing agreement with the Israeli firm Partner was a message that it was seeking to withdraw from Israel.
Richard said that he “sincerely” regretted the “controversy,” according to AFP.
A day earlier, Richard had told the Israeli news website Ynet that he did not mean to say that Orange was pulling out of Israel for political reasons.
“We are friends of Israel, it has nothing do with Israel, we love Israel,” he reportedly said. “My words were misunderstood; I spoke of a purely business issue.”
Richard said earlier in the week in Cairo that his company would end its Israeli presence if it were not contractually bound to Partner. A day later the company announced that it would seek to cancel a recently signed 10-year arrangement with Partner in Israel. Orange has not directly reached out to Partner since Richard’s Cairo remarks, the company said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to speak on Sunday with French President Francois Hollande about the incident and the implications for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. France owns a 25 percent stake in Orange.
Also Sunday, Netanyahu told his Foreign Ministry to let Richard know that if he wants to set the record straight, he should travel to Israel to speak directly to Netanyahu, not meet with an Israeli diplomat in France, according to AFP.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Friday that France opposes boycotts, but would not intervene in the dispute.
Partner owner Haim Saban, an Egyptian-born Hollywood entertainment tycoon, on Saturday called the Orange claim that it was not trying to pull out of Israel for political reasons a “blatant lie.” Saban told Israel’s Channel 2 in an interview Saturday night that he would fight back so hard that other companies considering a boycott of Israel will “think twice whether they want to take on Israel or not.”
“Trust me,” Saban said, “this is just the beginning.”
Orange maintains two subsidiaries in Israel: Orange Business Services and Viaccess-Orca, a specialist in Internet television.