Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban on Saturday rejected as a “blatant lie” the claim by French telecom giant Orange that it was not pulling out of Israel for political reasons, and vowed to fight back so robustly against Orange that any other company thinking of boycotting Israel would reconsider. “We do have an anti-Semitic tsunami that’s coming at us,” said Saban of the international effort to boycott and demonize Israel.
Saban was speaking in a joint Israeli television interview with Jewish American billionaire Sheldon Adelson from Las Vegas, where Adelson this weekend hosted representatives of some 50 Jewish and pro-Israel organizations to coordinate a strategy for battling anti-Israel boycott efforts.
Adelson said his prime focus initially was to reverse the inroads being made by what he called “the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and company… the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic organizations [that] are making a lot of headway on the campuses in the United States.” He said he would encourage Jewish groups to work to have boycott decisions taken by student campus groups reversed.
But Saban made clear that he intended to fight back against any business groups inclining to boycott Israel, and create a climate in which they were deterred from doing so.
Saban — who owns Partner, the Israeli company whose rights to use the Orange name are now to be cancelled by the French telecom giant — angrily dismissed Orange CEO Stephane Richard’s claim that Orange is not pulling out of Israel for political reasons.
Richard last Wednesday said in Cairo that he wanted Orange to “withdraw” from Israel as soon as possible, and Orange announced it was severing its contract with Partner on Thursday. Amid a storm of criticism in Israel and from American Jewish leaders, Richard then apologized for his comments, said he loves Israel, and claimed that the pullout was commercial not political.
“That’s a blatant lie,” Saban told Channel 2, in a joint interview for Vegas with Adelson alongside him. “Therefore we’re going to weigh all of our options.”
Added Saban: “And one thing is for sure. This isn’t over. This is the beginning. Any company that chooses to boycott business in Israel is going to look at this case, and once we’re done they’re going to think twice whether they want to take on Israel or not. Trust me this is just the beginning.”
In a letter he sent to the Vegas gathering, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also rejected Orange CEO Richard’s apologies and clarifications: “His words about [his] connection to Israel do not undo or change the impact of his hostile comments in Egypt,” Netanyahu said of Richard in the letter. “We have to fight back [against BDS efforts]. It’s another front.”
Adelson, a key supporter of Netanyahu’s, said the weekend summit was designed to get Jewish organizations acting “collaboratively” to fight against “delegitimization and demonization of Israel. “It’s a challenge to get Jewish groups to work together,” he said. “We have to see what they all have to contribute… They need to put boots on the ground.”
Adelson and Saban good-naturedly acknowledged their American political differences: In 2016, “we’re going to vote for a different president,” said Democrat Saban of he and Republican Adelson. But “when it comes to Israel we are absolutely on the same page.”
Adelson said the Israeli government “has a strategic interest in fighting against BDS,” and that his new alliance would “love to” cooperate with Israel as far as posible. “Their intelligence is a lot better than ours is,” he said. “They can tell us probably who’s involved in Europe.”
Saban quoted a statistic to the effect that “10% of Americans are anti-Semites. “That’s 33 million people,” he said. “It is our duty to put Israel’s right image forth to the people so that they see what the real Israel is.”
Adelson said he had grown up amid anti-Semitism and saw “little or no sign” of it today “in the American society… But I am absolutely positive there is a lot of anti-Semitism on campus. The people who are buying it… I do not believe are bigots. But they are buying the arguments.” So supporters of Israel must “act pro-actively,” he said.