(JTA) – France opposes boycotts against Israel but will not intervene if the Orange communications giant drops its Israeli affiliate, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
Fabius’ statement on Friday was in reaction to the announcement the previous day by Orange S.A., which is partly controlled by the French state, that it would terminate its presence in Israel and its association with Partner Communications.
“Although it is for the president of the Orange group to determine the commercial strategy of the company, France is firmly opposed to a boycott of Israel,” Fabius said in the statement.
Orange’s announcement cited commercial considerations but came one day after Orange’s CEO, Stephane Richard, said in Cairo that his company would end its Israeli presence if it were not contractually bound to Partner. He added: “I know that it is a sensitive issue here in Egypt, but not only in Egypt. We want to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries.”
In an interview for Ynet, Richard on Friday said he did not mean to say that Orange was pulling out of Israel for political reasons. “We are friends of Israel, it has nothing do with Israel, we love Israel. My words were misunderstood, I spoke of a purely business issue,” he was quoted as saying.
On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin both urged the French government to condemn Orange’s pullout, which, despite the firm’s claims, Netanyahu called “despicable” and politically motivated.
Yonathan Arif, the vice-president of the CRIF, the umbrella body for French Jewish groups, that a pullout would be a victory for the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.
“Regardless of the real reason for Orange’s pullout, if it goes through it would give a first public victory of its caliber to BDS,” he said.
Citing France’s ownership of 25 per cent of Orange’s shares, Arif called on the French government to reverse Orange’s decision.