Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.
(photo credit: AMIT SHABAY/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Foreign Ministry on Sunday to inform the CEO of French telecom giant Orange that any explanations of his remarks regarding the termination of his company's activities in Israel should be made in Israel itself rather than at the Israeli embassy in Paris.
Stephane Richard, who heads the French telecommunications company, affirmed on Saturday that Orange plans to continue its business ties with Israel, back-pedaling comments he had made to the contrary a few days earlier.
“Let me make it very clear that the Orange Group is in Israel to stay,” Richard said in an email to AFP. “Orange does not support any form of boycott, in Israel or anywhere else in the world.”
He sent the message after a speech in Cairo on Wednesday, in which he said he would terminate his company’s contract with its Israeli subsidiary, Partner Communications, “tomorrow” if he could.
His words immediately sparked fears that Orange was about to boycott Israel as a response to the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians and was seen as part of a larger effort to delegitimize Israel by supporters of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement.
In a statement he sent to a high-level meeting of Jewish philanthropists and organizations in Las Vegas on Friday, Netanyahu committed to combating the BDS movement.
The meeting was sponsored by business magnates Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban, a leading shareholder in Partner Communications.
“Delegitimization of Israel is a major challenge facing the Jewish people and the Jewish state,” Netanyahu said.
A call to boycott the Jewish state, he said, “is not about this or that Israeli policy. It’s about our right to exist here as a free people.”
“Israel, the most embattled democracy on earth, that seeks a genuine peace while fending off the forces of barbaric terrorism, deserves their support,” Netanyahu said.
His government, he added, “is committed to launching assertive and innovative programs and to joining you and many others around the world to combat the lies and slander that are leveled against us.
“Just in the last week, there was an attempt to throw Israel out of FIFA,” soccer’s international governing body, said Netanyahu. He added that in addition, the National Union of Students in the UK voted to support boycotting Israel.
France, which owns a 25-percent stake in Orange, sought to distance itself on Friday from any attempt to boycott Israel.
“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,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.
Still, Israel plans to hold high-level conversations with France on the matter, according to an official.
To help calm the waters, Orange’s Richard also called Vice Premier Silvan Shalom to apologize and told him that he was a “friend of Israel.”Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.