Telecoms firm backtracks on Israel withdrawal comments

Telecoms firm backtracks on Israel withdrawal comments
Stephane Richard said that Orange was not boycotting Israel, after meeting Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday.
2 min read
12 June, 2015
Orange are not boycotting Israel, according to its head (Getty)
The head of the French telecoms giant Orange met Israel's prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday, in an attempt to limit the damage made by statements he made in Cairo two weeks ago.

Stephane Richard had told reporters then that Orange would be pulling out of Israel, after being asked about its dealings with an Israeli operator, Partner Communications, which has a presence in illegal Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank.

"Our intention is to withdraw from Israel... I am ready to do this tomorrow morning," Richard said.

Richard has now, however, moved to clarify his statement, after the Israeli government reacted with anger, believing it to be a win for growing international moves to boycott Israel.

Richard stressed that Orange does not endorse any boycott against Israel, and said that the decision by the company to end its partnership with Partner Communications was a purely commercial decision linked to his company's business strategy and not driven by any political motivations.

Richard added that Orange still has interests in Israel, and investments in the high-tech sector.

Richard's visit to Jerusalem came at the request of Netanyahu, who had called the French president Francois Hollande in protest. The French state owns 25 percent of Orange, which was formerly known as French Telecom.

Jewish groups in France had said that they intend to sue the company, claiming that French law prohibits boycotts, and Partner Communications also threatened to sue Orange for damages.

At the start of the dispute, Netanyahu refused to allow the Israeli ambassador to meet with Richard, or accept an apology from Orange's head.