French telecommunications giant Orange has announced it will be severing ties with Israeli company Partner Communications Ltd, effectively joining the boycott of Israel. 

Orange firmly denies the move as politically motivated (or that it is a boycott), but the announcement comes one day after Orange CEO Stephane Richard announced in Cairo, “Our intention is to withdraw from Israel. It will take time” but “for sure we will do it,” he said. “I am ready to do this tomorrow morning… but without exposing Orange to huge risks.

“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.”

Human rights organisations in France and pro-Palestinian groups have been pressuring Orange and the French government, which owns a 25% stake in the firm, calling them to cancel their trade deal with Partner.  Partner is one of the three main mobile phone service providers in Israel and its services are available in Israeli settlements and the West Bank.

Outgoing head of Partner, Haim Romano said, “We are an Israeli company that provides service to everyone,” he told the Walla news site. “We are confident that the Israeli public will know how to tell the difference between us and there will be no harm to Orange Israel, which is a separate company.”

Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case as Israeli citizens have moved to cancel contracts with Partner, not realising it is an Israeli owned company and only leases the Orange brand name.  The branding lease had recently been renewed for the next 10 years, a deal which Orange now wants to break.  Romano said Orange will have to “pay a lot of money” to do so.

MK Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid party said of Stephane’s comments, “This is hypocrisy of the highest order.”

“I don’t remember him (Stephane) having a problem making money here and profiting from Israeli citizens. The State of Israel is an island of sanity in this difficult neighbourhood and we certainly won’t accept lessons in morality from someone so self-righteous and detached.”

Israel’s Economy and Trade Minister Aryeh Deri said “I condemn the statement made by the CEO of Orange. Boycotts will not succeed in imposing anything on Israel — the only way is communication and negotiations. I plan to approach the CEO of Partner Communications and its senior managers and offer them all the assistance I can provide in confronting the global boycott efforts.”

Incoming CEO of Partner, Isaac Benbenisti said he was angry at the “very significant pressure” from the BDS movement, which they feel has caused this move by Orange.  Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban, who owns the Israeli company, said Wednesday that “threats won’t deter me. I will continue operating in Israel and leading the global battle for Israel.”

In the UK, most of us will know the Orange brand and the tagline, “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange” along with their cinema deal “Orange Wednesdays”.  The Orange brand no longer operates in the UK.  Orange currently owns 50% of EE, but they are selling to BT in 2016.


Sources:  Times of Israel, Israel Hayom, Orange SA and Daily News Egypt