Orange will never back boycott of Israel, CEO tells Netanyahu


(JTA) — Following a series of seemingly conflicting statements about Israel, the CEO of the French telecommunications giant Orange publicly assured Israel’s prime minister that his firm would never boycott the Jewish state.

Stephan Richard, who last week in Cairo appeared to link his firm’s desire to leave Israel with currying favor with Arab countries, gave the assurances Friday during a joint news conference with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Standing opposite the Israeli leader, Richard said he had come to “clear the confusion created after those statements. I regret deeply this controversy and I want to make it totally clear that Orange as a company has never supported and will never support any kind of boycott against Israel.”

The confusion, as Richard called it, was not only over his own statements in Cairo on June 4 but also over his company’s official statement the following day about wanting to leave Israel as part of the company’s strategic decision not to maintain a presence anywhere where it does not directly provide services.

As per a 2000 contract, Orange — which is partly controlled by the French government because the state owns 25 percent of the company’s shares — is represented in Israel by a local affiliate, Partner Communications.

Following the statements by Richard and Orange, Israel called on France to urge Orange to reverse its decision. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his country opposes boycotts of Israel but that Orange was free to chart its own course. After that statement, Richard reiterated his opposition to boycotts against Israel.

But in Cairo, he said Orange would abandon Partner “tomorrow morning” if not for contractual penalties. “I know that it is a sensitive issue here in Egypt, but not only in Egypt,” Richard said. “We want to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries,” Richard added.

Since making that statement, Richard has asked to meet with Israel’s ambassador in France but Netanyahu’s office instructed the embassy to refer Richard to the prime minister’s office. Richard landed in Israel on Thursday.

“We are doing business, we are doing communication, we are here to connect people and certainly not to participate in any kind of boycott,” Richard said. “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.”

During the meeting, Netanyahu 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.”

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