Israeli flags hang over the counter for the Orange mobile company at a mall in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The top executive of a large French telecommunications company apologized to Israel’s deputy prime minister on Friday just days after setting off a firestorm of criticism by announcing plans to cut economic ties with the Jewish state.
“I spoke with the CEO of Orange, Stephane Richard, and I told him that the people of Israel are angered and hurt by his statements,” Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom wrote on his Facebook page. “I told him how it saddened me that he had turned into a tool in the struggle against Israel and that he had lent a hand to the assault by Israel-haters who are trying to harm Israel not just militarily but economically.”
“Richard apologized for his remarks that he made during a conference in Egypt and told me that he is a friend of Israel,” Shalom wrote. “He claimed that his comments were not properly understood and that he spoke only about the economic aspect [of his decision].”
“He apologized on behalf of himself and the company for the remarks, and he said that they condemn all forms of boycotts,” the deputy prime minister wrote.
Richard said earlier this week the French company was willing to withdraw the Orange brand from Israel "tomorrow morning" but moving too quickly would expose his company to legal risks and possible financial penalties.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius sought to calm a row with Israel on Friday, saying France opposed any boycott of the Jewish state but stressing that Orange, which plans to end its license deal there, was free to define its own policy.
"While it is up to the president of the Orange group to define the commercial strategy of its company, France is firmly opposed to any boycott of Israel," he said in a statement.
"Moreover, the position of France and the European Union on settlements is consistent and widely known." France in June 2014 issued a warning to French investors that investments in Israeli settlement areas carried legal risks, a move which already raised concerns in Israel.
As Israeli officials accused the company of bending to a pro-Palestinian boycott movement, Orange stated that any move to terminate the accord with Israel's Partner Communications was a business decision, not a political one.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded France "publicly renounce the distressing statement and action" taken by Orange. The French government holds a 25 percent stake in the company. Reuters contributed to this report.