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UPDATED: Orange CEO tells Israel PM: 'I deeply regret' boycott row

AFP , Friday 12 Jun 2015
Richard
File Photo: France Telecom Orange Chairman and CEO Stephane Richard attends a show to present the company's innovations in Paris November 7, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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The head of French telecoms giant Orange told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday he was distressed by reactions to remarks seen as backing a boycott of Israel.

"I deeply regret the impact resulting from the context and interpretation of those statements," Orange quoted Stephane Richard as telling Netanyahu at a meeting in Jerusalem.

A row erupted after remarks by Richard during a news conference in Cairo on June 3 in which he said the firm was planning to withdraw its brand from Israel at the earliest possible opportunity.

Orange licences its name and logo for use by Israeli firm Partner Communications under an agreement due to run until 2025.

Israel reacted furiously to Richard's comments, accusing him of bowing to a Palestinian-led boycott campaign.

The Orange chief flew into Israel on Thursday for a two-day visit in a bid to soothe Israeli anger.

"It's no secret that what you said last week was interpreted by many as an attack on Israel," Netanyahu's office quoted the prime minister as telling Richard at their meeting.

"We seek real and secure peace with our neighbours the Palestinians," he said. "But this can only be achieved by direct negotiations between the sides without preconditions. It cannot be achieved by boycotts or threats of boycotts."

Richard's Cairo comments were interpreted in Israel as a response to a report by a group of NGOs which accused Orange of indirectly supporting settlement activity through its agreement with Partner.

Partner operates in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law and widely opposed by the international community.

"This meeting is an opportunity to say clearly and unequivocally that Orange does not participate in boycotts of Israel or elsewhere," Richard said.

"Let me repeat that Orange has companies in Israel and intends to continue to develop them," he said, speaking of local subsidiaries unconnected to Partner.

Orange says Israel is the only country in the world where it has a trademark agreement with a company that is not a subsidiary.

Under the deal it cannot use the Orange name for its own activities there.

In a recent letter to Israel's deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, seen by AFP, Richard wrote that the Orange group "has a lasting presence in Israel" through its Fab Israel startup accelerator programme and subsidiaries such as its business services unit and Internet television specialist Viaccess-Orca.

"In Israel, we have been active for over 20 years and we are continually investing in our companies and in our people," he told Netanyahu on Friday.

*This article was edited by Ahram Online

 

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