Orange CEO in Israel to reconnect after boycott brouhaha

Telecom chief Stephane Richard arrives for two-day visit, will meet PM, aims to make amends after saying his company wanted to pull its brand from the country

French telecom operator Orange CEO Stephane Richard in Paris, February 17, 2014. (AFP/ERIC PIERMONT)
French telecom operator Orange CEO Stephane Richard in Paris, February 17, 2014. (AFP/ERIC PIERMONT)

PARIS — French telecom group Orange CEO Stephane Richard arrived in Israel Thursday for a two-day visit after his statement that his company wanted to leave Israel sparked a bitter fight over boycotts.

Richard accepted an invitation from Israel to “clarify the misunderstanding” after he said last week in Cairo that Orange was going to withdraw its brand from the Jewish state.

“It is obviously our political willingness to stay here in Israel,” Richard said upon arrival.

Richard was set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

His original comments were seen as a reaction to a report accusing Orange of indirectly supporting settlement activity on occupied territory through its relationship with Israel‘s Partner Communications. Partner has contracted use of the Orange brand name through 2025.

Israel reacted furiously, accusing Richard of bowing to a Palestinian-led boycott campaign.

Netanyahu said the campaign to snub Israeli goods was aimed at the “elimination” of the Jewish state.

Richard quickly tried to limit the damage, insisting there was no political motivation and telling AFP over the weekend that he “sincerely regrets” the furor and saying that he was “radically opposed to the very idea of a boycott.”

“It was never the question for a second that Orange would withdraw from Israel,” he told French TV station BFMTV.

Partner, Israel‘s second largest mobile operator, insisted that he travel to the country to explain himself and Richard was quick to accept an invitation from the government.

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