The moment I heard that Stéphane Richard, the CEO of Orange, had said on Egyptian television that he wished his company could end its licensing agreement here “tomorrow morning,” I googled three words: “Orange,” “mobile” and “Syria.”
Lo and behold, there’s an Orange store in Aleppo. Hop in for an iPhone, for accessories, whatever you need. (The store even has a Facebook page.) Stéphane Richard, it seems, has no problem having an Orange store in the country that has gassed to death hundreds or thousands of its own children, that has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens and has turned literally millions of its own people into homeless refugees.
No, Stéphane Richard does not seem to have a problem with Syria, and it’s not Aleppo he wants Orange to exit. He has a problem with Israel, and it’s Tel Aviv he would like to leave.
Well, that is unless you take seriously his panicked and obsequious backpedaling once he had been “invited” (“summoned?”) to Israel and to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“It’s an honor to meet with you this morning, and it also gives me an opportunity to clear up the confusion that was created after those statements. I deeply regret this controversy,” stated Richard in front of the prime minister as the cameras were clicking.
Part of that was actually true. Richard clearly does regret the controversy – one can only imagine what his chief investors said to him in the hours after he accidentally revealed himself to be an unabashed anti-Semite. For were Richard’s objections to the conduct of conflict, Orange would have been out of Syria long before he ever thought of Israel.
No, this is about Jews, and in that regard, the Orange CEO follows an august line of Europeans whose hatred for the Jews continues unabated, just transforming itself to fit the times. Once it was opposition to Jewish theology – now it’s opposition to the Jewish nation-state.
As for Richard’s claim that his visit was “an opportunity to clear up the confusion that was created” by what he said – that’s rubbish, and had Netanyahu had his wits about him, he would have pointed that out. What “confusion” was there? Why, in fact, did the prime minister of Israel see fit to meet with an unabashed enemy of the Jewish people? Does he imagine that Stéphane Richard was convinced of anything by virtue of his visit? Were the Jewish people somehow ennobled by having Richard come to Israel just to lie to us? The Israeli response was absurd.
The right thing to do would have been to organize, as quickly as possible, an international, global-as-possible boycott of Orange. There have to be hundreds of significant corporations, and thousands of smaller companies, who do business with Orange but have investors or clients or advertisers or legal representatives who are Jewish, or care about Israel.
The right move would have been not to invite Richard to Israel to stay in a luxury hotel and meet the prime minster, but to make it clear to Orange that having someone like Richard as its CEO was going to cost them a lot of money.
Yet we Jews don’t react that way. Take the incident at UCLA a few months ago, when Jewish student Rachel Beyda, who had been nominated to the students’ judicial board, was asked by another student, Fabienne Roth, how she could maintain an unbiased position given her relationship to the Jewish community.
In other words, Roth wanted to know, “How can you be fair when you’re a Jew?” The student council debated Beyda’s candidacy, and actually voted her down. Only when a faculty member pointed out the problematic aspects of such a decision did they vote again and appoint her to the board.
Imagine if Fabienne Roth had asked an African-American candidate, “How can you maintain an unbiased view when you’re black?” Just imagine the national outcry and the vehement expressions of rage. Or imagine if Fabienne Roth had asked a Muslim student, “How can you be fair when you’re a Muslim?” Does anyone doubt what would have happened on UCLA’s campus? Because Rachel Beyda is Jewish, however, our response was: to write blogs.
It is actually pathetic that more people know the name of Rachel Beyda – who was just a pawn in the incident and neither did nor said anything remarkable – than know the name of Fabienne Roth – who, like Stéphane Richard, showed herself to be an ugly anti-Semite.
And like Richard, Roth was allowed to make a perfunctory apology and move right along.
This has to stop. In an era in which anti-Semitism is once again sweeping across wide swathes of the world, we need to make it clear that while we cannot make holding anti-Semitic views illegal, we can make expressing them very expensive.
A well-organized Jewish community would let Fabienne Roth know that if she becomes a lawyer, any firm that hires her will have picketers outside its offices until she is fired. Its Jewish and other fair-minded clients will be pressured to leave the firm. Having Roth on staff has to become a liability – not for a month or two, not for a year or two. For decades.
If Fabienne Roth becomes a physician, then whatever hospital or practice hires her needs to know they will experience the same pressure. Should Roth choose not to have a career, she will still have a home somewhere. She should not be able to exit or enter her home without encountering a small number of polite, lawful protesters, who will remind her – day in and day out – that we know exactly what she is. If and when she has children, we’ll remind them, too.
It is time to say that we have had enough.
Europe will never be cured of the disease called anti-Semitism; increasingly, the disease will cross the ocean to the US as well. We may be able to combat some of it through education, through productive relationships with gentile religious and political leaders. There may be much we can do to stem the tide.
But when those efforts fail, when seemingly intelligent people like CEOs of massive corporations or students at UCLA prove themselves to be anti-Semites, we need to remind the world that not for naught is the Jewish people one of the very-best-organized communities in the world.
For centuries, Jews have paid the price for anti-Semitism. The time has come for the anti-Semites to start paying the price.
The writer is senior vice president, Koret Distinguished Fellow and chair of the core curriculum at Jerusalem’s Shalem College, Israel’s first liberal arts college. His latest book is Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul, and he is now writing a concise history of the State of Israel.