Israeli leaders and officials at Partner Communications called on the French government to condemn Orange for giving in to anti-Israel pressure and announcing its intention to leave the Israeli market.
Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Rivlin, expressed their outrage at Orange CEO Stephane Richard’s announcement that he would bow to anti-Israel pressure and end the branding agreement with Israel’s Partner Communications. Orange claims on its website that the decision is purely about business, not politics. Partner is considering suing Orange for damages from Richard’s comments.
“I call on the French government to publicly denounce the despicable statement and miserable actions of a company [Orange] that is under partial French government ownership,” said Netanyahu in a statement. “At the same time, I urge our best friends to loudly proclaim that they are opposed to any sort of boycott against the state of the Jews.”
Rivlin tweeted, “Worryingly I am yet to hear condemnation by France’s leaders of the Orange CEO’s remarks. I expect their voices be heard in Israel and Cairo.”
In his announcement in Cairo, Richard said, “We want to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries” and that, “If you take [Partner’s branding fee] on one side and on the other side the time that we spend to explain [the relationship with Partner], to try to find a solution and the consequences that we have to manage here but also in France, believe me it’s a very bad deal.”
Incredibly, Orange denied that the move was politically motivated, writing on it’s website that it is looking to end its brand presence “in countries in which it is not, or is no longer, an operator.” Richard told the French newspaper, Le Monde, “It is not in [our] policy that an operator over which we have no control use our brand…This has nothing to do with the political context.”
Controlling owner of Partner, Haim Saban, criticized Orange for “conced[ing] to pressures from all sorts of anti-Semitic bodies.” Noting that the French government owns a 25% stake in Orange, Saban said, “The French government should speak out and dissociate itself from the head of Orange in France.”
CEO Haim Romano said that he would consider legal action against Orange for damages caused by Richard’s comments in Cairo. However, he said, “We are confident that the Israeli public will know how to tell the difference between us and there will be no harm to Orange Israel, which is a separate company.”
Romano indicated that Partner had not received any official communications from Orange over their business relationship, and that, “In the meantime, we still demand an apology and clarifications concerning what the CEO said.”
In an act of protest, employees at Partner have covered up Orange’s logo with Israeli flags at their office in Rosh Ha’ayin.