French mobile operator Orange struggling to walk Israel-Palestine tightrope
The head of Orange Stephane Richard is struggling to placate two different audiences, after his comments in Cairo on Wednesday that the French telecoms firm would be pulling out of Israel.
Asked about a report by French NGOs on Partner Communications, Orange's operator in Israel, and which operates in illegal Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, Richard said: “our intention is to withdraw from Israel … I am ready to do this tomorrow morning”.
Richard appears to have been unprepared for the fallout, as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried his comments, seeing the move as part of a global campaign by pro-Palestinian activists, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which has moved to try and isolate Israel by pursuing a boycott strategy similar to the way the international community dealt with apartheid South Africa.
“I call on the French government to publicly renounce the miserable remarks and the miserable action of a company that is under its partial ownership,” Netanyahu said, referring to the fact that the French state partially owns Orange.
He added that the move was part of the “theatre of the absurd” that the Israeli government believes it finds itself in, as the victim of Palestinian aggression in the form of boycotts aimed at isolating Israel for continuing its 48-year occupation of Palestinian land.
Netanyahu's statement prodded Richard into action, and he attempted to limit the damage in Israel, claiming to not have known about the boycott movement.
“This has nothing to do with Israel, we love Israel, we are in Israel … we are a friend in Israel,” he said on Thursday.
However, he now faces pressure from BDS activists who smell a potentially big scalp for their campaign.
A move to boycott Mobinil, an Egyptian mobile phone provider almost wholly-owned by Orange, has been in place for two weeks, and BDS Egypt promise to continue until Orange fully pulls out of Israel.
It seems that, whatever Richard and Orange say, they will not be able to keep everyone happy.