Orange confirms it plans to cut ties with Israeli firm, but says move not political

French telecoms giant announces desire to discontinue use of popular brand name by Israeli operator Partner Communications.

A woman walks past an Orange shop (photo credit: REUTERS)
A woman walks past an Orange shop
(photo credit: REUTERS)
French telecoms operator Orange said on Thursday it plans to end its brand licensing deal with the Israeli mobile operator Partner Communications, a day after Orange CEO Stephane Richard made comments in Cairo that were perceived in Israel as support for a boycott of the Jewish state.
The company said Thursday that it indeed wishes to end its brand licensing agreement with Partner, but that the move is a matter of policy, not politics, in an apparent attempt to separate itself from Richard's comments. Richard said Wednesday he wanted to end the agreement, even though there was a huge risk of financial penalties from doing so, and that the decision was in part due to the firm's relations with Arab countries. The French government owns 25% of Orange and it is under pressure to pull out of its Israeli activities because Partner operates in the West Bank.
"The Orange Group is a telecoms operator and as such its primary concern is to defend and promote the value of its brand in markets in which it is present. The Group does not engage in any kind of political debate under any circumstance," a statement on the company's website read Thursday following Richard's comments.
"This agreement, which was signed prior to the acquisition of Orange by France Telecom in 2000, is the only long-term brand license agreement within the Orange Group. In line with its brand development strategy, Orange does not wish to maintain the presence of the brand in countries in which it is not, or is no longer, an operator. In this context, and while strictly adhering to existing agreements, the Group ultimately wishes to end this brand license agreement," the statement added.
Israeli Ambassador to France  Yossi Gal spoke with the Foreign and Finance Ministries in Paris earlier on Thursday to try and persuade the French government to distance themselves from the boycott remarks, Israel's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Gal said that Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely had instructed him to lodge the complaint with Paris. "The Israeli Embassy in Paris is acting intensely to express the graveness with which Israel sees the comments made by the Orange CEO in Cairo and our expectation is that there be immediate clarification."
France's Foreign Ministry declined to comment specifically on Richard's comments. But it reaffirmed that France is against any boycott of Israel, while viewing as illegal the settlements it has built in "occupied territory," where Partner and other Israeli phone companies also operate.
Reuters contributed to this report.