Chairman and CEO of Orange Stephane Richard and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
Less than two weeks after saying in Cairo that Orange S.A. would immediately cut its licensing agreement with Israel’s Partner Communications if it were not financially prohibitive to do so, the company’s CEO came to Jerusalem on Friday, apologized again for his comments, and said his company wants to keep investing here.
Stephane Richard, who unleashed a storm of criticism with the comments he later said were misinterpreted, said at the start of his Friday meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Orange is in the business of communication and connecting people, “certainly not to participate in any kind of boycott.”
“Israel is a fantastic place to be in the digital industry and, of course, our will is to strengthen and to keep on investing here,” he said.
Richard said he deeply regrets the controversy over his words and wants “to make totally clear that Orange as a company has never supported and will never support any kind of boycott against Israel.”
Richard came to Israel for a brief visit after his request to apologize in Paris to Israel’s ambassador was rebuffed and he was told if he wanted to clarify matters, he would have to do so in Jerusalem.
“It’s no secret that the remarks you made last week were widely seen as an attack on Israel and so your visit here is an opportunity to set the record straight,” Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting.
The prime minister, who one source briefed on the discussion said was “tough” during the meeting and made clear that Israel would fight back strongly against any boycott attempts, told Richard in his public statement that “Israel is the one country in the Middle East that guarantees full civic rights. It’s the one county in the Middle East where everyone is protected under the law equally.”
Furthermore, Netanyahu said, Israel seeks “a genuine and secure peace with our Palestinian neighbors, but that can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions. It will not be achieved through boycotts and through threats of boycotts.”
Government officials said Israel’s furious response to Richard’s comments was intended to deter any other companies who might consider pulling out of Israel for political reasons, and indicate that these types of moves would not be allowed to pass quietly. Orange stock fell to its lowest point in three months last week in both US and Paris trading.
Following his meeting with Netanyahu, Richard met with former president Shimon Peres, who said his visit was “very important” because Orange’s opposition to boycotts and support for Israel needed to be heard “in a clear voice.”
“Boycotts burn and destroy bridges to peace instead of bringing people together and promoting tolerance,” Peres said.