Orange’s chutzpah factor

You can’t un-ring the bell.

Yes, international telecom giant CEO Stephane Richard did sort of apologize this weekend for his statement last week that “[o]ur intention is to withdraw from Israel…” and further saying  if it were financially feasible, he would terminate his company’s relationship “tomorrow” with Partner, the Israeli company that licenses the Orange name in Israel.

After a huge backlash, from the Israeli government and a variety of business and Jewish groups, including B’nai B’rith, Richard tweeted this weekend:  “Affected and sorry about the controversy,” and, “Orange is not doing politics and cares about Israel.”

This is a clear case of being disingenuous. The pandering to the BDS camp (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement), which is encouraged by the Palestinian authority, appears to have backfired in this case and it looks as if Orange is scrambling for needed cover. Backed by the Palestinian Authority and deeply active among a range of non-governmental organizations and on college campuses, BDS aims to single out Israel for unjust discrimination and harm.

This insidious movement’s goal is to undermine Israel at every turn.

Both the arrogance and shamelessness of Richard are noteworthy for his absolute lack of pretense: the original statement said he would leave Israel tomorrow if Orange wouldn’t be sued.

The fact that he was in Egypt when he made his original statement about cutting ties with Orange’s Israeli partner  only adds to speculations about his actual motives.

Orange’s statement that Richard soon will visit Israel may not necessarily undo the damage.

In Israel, many major figures across the political spectrum called the comments by Richard an outrage. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called “on the French government to publicly repudiate the miserable statement and miserable action by a company that is under its partial ownership.”

With the French government holding a 25 percent stake in Orange, protests have poured into French government offices at the highest level, prompting Foreign Minister Laurent Faubius to say France is against boycotts of Israel.

It took a huge, international outcry for Richard to retreat and tell the media: “We love Israel,” and that this is not a boycott, but a “business decision.”  But whatever he calls it now doesn’t really make a difference.

We don’t yet know what result will come from his visit to Israel, but terrible damage has already been inflicted by Richard, giving aid and comfort to the BDS movement, and giving additional incentives to the Palestinians to keep driving for international pressure on Israel, rather than negotiating an end to the conflict.

This kind of rhetoric and “business decision” aimed at punishing Israel economically has a whiff of the 1930s to it. Whatever one might think of the Israeli settlement enterprise, globally isolating Israel is a non-starter. The BDS movement now includes corporate and other bullying. Israel will surely not be intimidated by such activity. A wide range of issues needs to be worked out through face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. BDS, now bolstered by Richard, seeks only to intimidate, bully and delegitimize the State of Israel and its standing in the world. Boycotts and business pull-outs don’t advance the idea of a peaceful resolution of this conflict; they only set it back further.

As France works on proposing what appears to be a United Nations Security Council resolution that would impose a settlement of the  Palestinian-Israeli conflict—through an expected U.N. Security Council resolution—it might learn from the Orange fiasco. It’s easy, when you’re living thousands of miles from the region, to move pieces across a chessboard. And as it should know from its own history, the surest route to peace and stability lies through negotiations, tough though they may be.

France and Orange might better expend their energy on encouraging Palestinians to go to the negotiating table rather than have them believe they can achieve their aims by having countries and companies do their heavy lifting.


About the Author
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the CEO of B’nai B’rith International
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