JERUSALEM (JTA) – Orange CEO Stephane Richard will travel to Israel to clear up the controversy over the French telecom’s attitude toward Israel.
Richard will visit the country soon following an invitation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli and French media reported Monday.
Netanyahu, in his capacity as acting foreign minister, instructed the Foreign Ministry on Sunday to turn down a request by Richard to meet with the Israeli envoy in France, saying he could come to Israel to set the record straight.
An Orange spokesman cited by the French Le Monde news website said that Richard planned to visit Israel “soon” in order to “provide all the information necessary to put an end to this controversy and reaffirm the group’s commitment.”
French President Francois Hollande, trying to contain the fallout from the controversy, reiterated his strong opposition to anti-Israel boycotts in a conversation with Netanyahu on Sunday night in which he also told the Israeli leader that he wanted to maintain the economic ties between France and Israel.
The conversation followed statements last week by Richard in Cairo that his company, which is 25 per cent owned by the French government, would end its Israeli presence if it were not contractually bound to the Israeli firm Partner. A day later Orange announced that it would seek to cancel a recently signed 10-year arrangement with Partner in Israel.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Friday that France opposes boycotts but would not intervene in the dispute.
Richard in an interview on Saturday with the French news agency AFP denied that his company’s decision to end a brand-licensing agreement with Partner was a message that it was seeking to withdraw from Israel. Richard said that he “sincerely” regretted the “controversy,” according to AFP.
A day earlier, Richard had told the Israeli news website Ynet that 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,” he reportedly said. “My words were misunderstood; I spoke of a purely business issue.”