Orange Telecom is a huge French company involved in the global telecom market. Among its global partners is an Israeli company called Partner Communications, which provides Orange with a piece of the lucrative Israeli cellphone market in exchange for being allowed to use Orange’s name.
A couple of days ago, the company’s CEO, Stephane Richard, speaking at a news conference in Egypt made it very clear that he wanted to sever ties with Israel to join the BDS movement, saying he would “sever ties tomorrow” except for the danger of getting sued for violation of contract.
“Believe me I would cancel the contract tomorrow if I could,” Richard said. His comments were reported by the Daily News Egypt. The reasons he gave for doing business in Israel were that Orange could not cancel without being sued by Partner Communications.
“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.”
In answers to questions about Orange’s profit from the Israeli market being a factor, he claimed that that “the interest for us is certainly not a financial interest.”
“If you take those amounts on one side and on the other side the time that we spend to explain this, to try to find a solution and the consequences that we have to manage here but also in France, believe me it’s a very bad deal.”
Mais oui…the consequences of explaining to possible customers in the Arab world and in France that they do business with the Jews! Pauvre Monsieur Richard…
Needless to say, the Israelis did not exactly appreciate his remarks, and asked for clarifications.
And they got them, with suspicious speed. Today, Orange unilaterally cancelled its contract with Partner, essentially telling the Israeli company ‘sue me.’
Did I mention that the French government has a 25% stake in Orange Telecom? That, of course, is the heart of the matter. A big factor in the Socialist Hollande government winning the last French presidential election was their carrying the Muslim vote almost in a solid bloc. Without that support and the support of the anti-Israel Left, there’s no way Hollande and the Socialists win.
Underlining this, French Ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud suddenly went public and defended Orange Telecom’s illegal actions ‘because of the settlements and the occupation.’
Of course, Ambassador Araud didn’t mention what sovereign country Judea and Samaria belonged to when Israel ‘occupied’ their territory, but such matters apparently escape sophisticated Europeans like him. What matters is that diplomats don’t make public statements like this unless their government okays it. And companies don’t make illegal moves like this exposing them to litigation unless a 25% stakeholder goes along with it.
This is a reflection of the current state of affairs in France. In spite of all the platitudes denouncing anti-semitism, Jews continue to be assaulted in France with distressing regularity even in neighborhoods formerly considered safe and property is routinely vandalized, while the French government has responded by actually reducing security for the country’s Jewish communities and institutions.
The only major French politician who seems to be serious about protecting France’s Jews is Marine Le Pen of the National Front. The current government is not.
France is also rumored to be working closely with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to draft a UN resolution recognizing a Palestinian State on the pre 1967 lines that includes dividing Jerusalem and creating half a million Jewish refugees.
The French government has simply chosen sides in this war.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, in a statement, “I call on the French government to publicly denounce the despicable statement and miserable actions of a company that is under partial French government ownership.”
Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban, who holds a controlling share of Partner Communications, accused Orange Telecom of reacting to pressure from anti-Semitic groups.
“Partner is an Israeli firm in every sense. We signed a contract with them and we are considering our steps in the wake of their statement,” Saban told Ynet.
Orange “conceded to pressures from all sorts of anti-Semitic bodies,” he was quoted as saying on Channel 2. “In each generation they rise up to destroy us — we are strong and we will be united and fight them.”
The interesting part of that remark is that Saban is en route to Las Vegas, Nevada to meet with others who have to muscle to do just that.
A group of Jewish billionaires like Saban and Sheldon Adelson are meeting to create a strategy on combating Israel boycott efforts.
Adelson himself had some pithy things to say about the matter. The French government “de facto owns Orange,” he said. “The French government should speak out and dissociate itself from the head of Orange in France.”
Adelson also criticized the Israeli government -and rightfully so, in my opinion – for not setting up and funding an organization to fight anti-Israel boycotts and attempts to delegitimize Israel.
The way forward is pretty easy to define.
Right now, less than 2 percent of the agricultural and industrial products Israel exports to the EU originate in Judea and Samaria, while Israel as a whole imports far more from the EU than the EU buys from Israel (about $26.7 vs. $18.3 billion). Moreover, most of what Israel imports from the EU could easily be replaced by new imports from Asia, Australia and the United States.
So Europe stands to lose a lot more than Israel from ridiculous boycotts, and most of the EU knows it. What’s really needed is a good object example to drive the lesson home.
Saban, Adelson and their group could start by advertising online and in major media advising Israel’s friends, Jewish and non-Jewish, to boycott everything French..its wines, brandies and liqueurs, its cheeses, its perfumes, its electronics, fashions, everything. They could publish a ‘do not patronize’ list of French products, and encourage Israel’s supporters not to visit France and spend money there. This would be devastatingly effective in America.
Israelis could be assisted in participating by the government of Israel insisting that all French goods imported to Israel, even goods partially manufactured in France or with French components be clearly and prominently labeled as such.
At the same time, Orange Telecom should be aggressively pursued in court for breach of contract and for damages to Partner Communication. I’m certain Haim Saban is already laying the groundwork for that.
That’s the best way to destroy the BDS movement and governments leaning towards institutionalizing it. Make France the example of the high price that entails, not just with Israel but with its friends around the world.