Stephane Richard, CEO of Orange, should visit Israel and apologise for his remarks about the operator withdrawing its brand from the country, said Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s Prime Minister, according to Reuters.
Richard said at a Cairo press conference last week that Orange wanted to end a politically controversial brand licensing deal with Partner Communications.
He subsequently apologised, and over the weekend went further. “Let me make it very clear that the Orange Group is in Israel to stay,” Richard told AFP. “Orange does not support any form of boycott, in Israel or anywhere else in the world.”
Netanyahu complained about the comments last week and over the weekend told the Israeli ambassador to France not to accept a request by Richard to meet, it is believed. “If he wants to explain, he can come to Israel to do so,” according to one source.
The licensing deal with Partner Communications predates France Telecom’s ownership of Orange. The French operator bought Orange in 2000. The agreement with Partner runs until 2025.
Prior to backpedalling over the weekend, Richard said Orange wished to end the deal with Partner: “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,” the company said in a statement.
“In this context, and while strictly adhering to existing agreements, the Group ultimately wishes to end this brand licence agreement,” it added.
The statement triggered a response from Prime Minister Netanyahu, who demanded that the “French government publicly repudiate the distressing statement and action by a company that is under its partial ownership”. The French state owns 25 per cent of Orange.
France warned the country’s investors a year ago that holding shares in Israeli settlement areas carried legal risks. French human rights groups have pushed Orange to end its relationship with its partner.