Orange CEO’s comments ignite political row over Israel agreement

Orange CEO apologises after kicking off political row

05 JUN 2015

Orange CEO Stephane Richard said he was “affected and sorry” about a political row he sparked with comments regarding the French operator’s involvement in Israel.

Earlier French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius attempted to calm the furore with Israel after Richard (pictured) spoke out about a partner agreement in the country.

Richard this morning tweeted: “Affected & sorry about the controversy. Orange is not doing politics & cares about Israel”.

Earlier this week, the Orange CEO had said at a Cairo press conference that Orange wanted to withdraw its brand from Israel but risked legal penalties from ending a politically controversial agreement with a local operator, according to Reuters.

The CEO’s comment led to a threat of legal action from the local operator using the Orange brand, Partner Communications.

Orange then issued a statement, distancing itself from its local partner. It pointed out it has no operational presence in Israel, only a brand licence agreement. “The Orange Group is not a shareholder of Partner and has no influence on the strategy or operational development of this company,” it stated.

The agreement was signed prior to the acquisition of Orange by France Telecom in 2000, the statement continued, and is the only such long-term agreement within the group.

But the company made clear its desire to escape: “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,” it said.

“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 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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.

Foreign minister Fabius’ comments attempted to calm the situation. He said: “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.”

Orange has come under pressure domestically from campaigners arguing it should quit Israel because Partner does business with Jewish settlements built on Palestinian lands occupied following the 1967 Six-day war, which most of the world deems illegal.

In addition, Richard admitted its involvement with Israel caused a problem in Arab countries where it does business, and where it would like to further build its business.

Author

Richard Handford

Richard is the editor of Mobile World Live’s money channel and a contributor to the daily news service. He is an experienced technology and business journalist who previously worked as a freelancer for many publications over the last decade including...

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