(JNS.org) In the latest shift in a back-and-forth saga, the CEO of the French telecommunications giant Orange told the AFP news agency on Saturday that the company is in Israel "to stay."
"Orange does not support any form of boycott, in Israel or anywhere else in the world. ... Let me make it very clear that the Orange Group is in Israel to stay," said CEO Stephane Richard, adding that he "sincerely regrets" the recent controversy.
On Thursday, Orange had confirmed plans to cut ties with Partner Communications Ltd., its affiliate that provides cell phone service in the Jewish state.
"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," the company had said. "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."
At a news conference in Egypt last week, Richard had said 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 June 3. “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 had 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 last week.