French telecom operator Orange Chairman and CEO Stephane Richard speaks during the company's 2014 annual results presentation in Paris.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Orange S.A. Stephane Richard said in a letter received by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely on Tuesday that he was “personally deeply affected by the maelstrom” triggered by his recent comments, as well as by “the aggressiveness” of some of the reactions to “supposed declarations that I never made.
“I am a friend of Israel and I often visit the country,” he said. “It is a land of innovation and dynamism.”
Last Wednesday Richard, whose company has an affiliate agreement with the Israeli cellphone firm Partner (which operates under the Orange brand), was quoted as saying at a press conference in Cairo that he would gladly sever ties with Israel “tomorrow” if it wasn’t so financially prohibitive to his company.
“I know that it is a sensitive issue here in Egypt, but not only in Egypt. We want to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries,” he was quoted as saying.
The company had come under pressure from various groups for providing service to settlements in Judea and Samaria.
But in his letter to Hotovely, Richard said, “I firmly reject the idea presented in certain media that the Group’s decision was taken in reaction to political pressure from certain movements or organizations.”
His comments in Cairo infuriated Jerusalem, which – according to government officials – wanted to make this a “test case” to let other business that might contemplate such steps know that there will be repercussions.
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Orange S.A.’s stock on both the New York and Paris stock exchanges hit a three-month low this week.
Richard, in his letter to Hotovely, said, “I sincerely regret the current confusion and controversy regarding Orange and Israel. I can formally ensure you that, as an international company, we do not engage in any form of political debate but are entirely focused on our business strategy.”
Orange S.A., he reiterated, “does not support any form of boycott in Israel or anywhere else in the world. Orange has a lasting presence in Israel.”
He said that the company’s decision to end its brand license agreement with Israel was “strictly motivated” by commercial considerations.
Hotovely on Thursday wrote a sharply worded letter to Richard, calling on him to “clarify this matter as soon as possible.”
“I must admit to have been taken aback by these reports which do not become a responsible global company such as Orange,” she wrote. “I appeal to you to refrain from being party to the industry of lies which unfairly targets Israel.”
Hotovely responded to Richard’s letter on Tuesday by saying that the “best way for him to prove the sincerity of his words is to come to Israel.” A spokesman for Orange S.A. said earlier this week that Richard intended to do so soon.
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