Orange chief insists Israel pullout is for commercial reasons


The chief executive of Orange has backtracked after he told a conference in Cairo earlier in the week that he would take the telecoms giant out of Israel “tomorrow”.

In an interview with Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronat this morning, Stephane Richard said his comments had been “misunderstood”, adding: “I love Israel”.

Although Orange still intends to pull out of Israel, Mr Richard said that this was nothing to do with a boycott but for entirely commercial reasons.

Mr Richard said: “I am strongly offended by the idea that anyone would think that we want to leave Israel for political reasons… I meant that it was not our policy to permit use of the brand when we are not the operators.”

Mr Richard had told the Cairo conference: “I am ready to abandon this tomorrow morning but the point is that I want to secure the legal risk for the company. I want to terminate this, once again, but I don’t want to expose Orange to a level of risk and of penalties that could be really sizeable for the company.”

He added that the decision was made because of Orange's ties to Arab countries. "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."

Those comments were widely condemned by Israeli government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Netanyahu called on Thursday evening for the French government to publicly disavow Orange's "wretched statement and wretched behaviour" because it is partly owned by France.

Pro-Israel activists across the globe launched the #BoycottOrange campaign in response to Mr Richard’s original announcement.

On Friday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he was “firmly opposed to a boycott of Israel”.

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