Boycott movement pushes Orange to cut ties with Israel

French telecom giant slammed by Israeli media may not follow CEO’s ‘intention’ to leave Israel while BDS vows to continue boycott against Orange until good pledge made

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Egypt against the Israeli government’s crimes in occupied Palestinian territories say that they will continue to boycott Mobinil until its French parent company Orange fully pledges to cut ties with Israel.

“BDS Egypt confirms the continuation of the boycott of the company until it ends its participation in violations of Palestinian rights,” a statement sent to The Electronic Intifada said.

“If the millions of euros Orange fears losing in penalties is more important to it than respecting the rights of the Palestinian people, then the Egyptian people are capable of imposing far bigger penalties because they will not accept to pay their money to a company that participates in the crimes of the occupation.”

Orange chief executive Stephane Richard said at a press conference on Wednesday that their intention is “to withdraw from Israel.”

“I am ready to do this tomorrow morning... but without exposing Orange to huge risks,” he said.

His comments created a large media outcry in Israel. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the CEO’s remarks on Thursday a “theatre of absurd” which “will not be forgiven”.

“I call on the French Government to renounce publicly the miserable statements and the miserable actions of a company of which it holds partial ownership,” Netanyahu said.

Similar denouncements from various politician across the Israeli political spectrum forced Orange to issue a written clarification, saying that it doesn’t engage any kind of political debate under any circumstance.

In the statement, Orange reminded that it has no operational presence in Israel but a brand license agreement with Israeli operator Partner.

“The Orange Group is not a shareholder of Partner and has no influence on the strategy or operational development of this company,” the statement said.

The agreement was signed before France Telecom acquired Orange in 2000 and it is the only long-term deal remaining within the group and not in line with the company’s brand strategy.

“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,” the statement said.

“In this context, and while strictly adhering to existing agreements, the Group ultimately wishes to end this brand license agreement.”

At the end of May, the coalition formed by five non-governmental organisations and two unions in France asked Orange to state publicly its willingness to sever its ties with Partner and denounce "attacks on human rights" allegedly carried out by the Israeli firm.

Their claims were laid out in a report which alleged that Partner's business activities were contributing to the economic viability of illegal settlements and perpetuating a situation considered illegal by the international community.

“Under the company’s current contractual obligations, the brand license agreement is intended to continue for 10 more years,” the coalition warned in a statement published on its website (FIDH).

“Given the ongoing colonization policy by the Israeli authorities and the human rights violations entailed, such a delay is unjustifiable.”

However, Orange’s CEO swallowed his words and apologised for saying that the company intends to withdraw its business from Israel when he spoke on phone with Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom.

"I'm a friend of Israel, I love Israel," Richard was quoted in a statement by Shalom's spokesman.

"My words were taken out of context and misunderstood. I apologize in my name and in the company's name for these statements. We at Orange condemn boycotts of any kind."