Orange CEO Stephane Richard has accepted Benjamin Netanyahu's invitation to apologize in person in Israel, for having declared his company wanted to end its partnership with an Israeli company, a senior government official from Israel said Wednesday.
The controversy rose after several human rights organizations denounced last month the collaboration between the French telecommunicaitons company and the Israeli one, due to the latter operating on confiscated Palestinian lands under the Orange logo.
In a conference in Cairo last Wednesday, Richard declared “Our intention is to withdraw from Israel,” referring to the possibility of terminating Orange’s arrangement with Partner Communications.
His statement immediately triggered the uproar of Israeli state officials, fearing this move could spread to other companies and boost the BDS movement worldwide.
BDS is a campaign to boycott, sanction and divest from Israeli firms implicated in the settlements, inspired from South Africa's boycott of apartheid.
Under strong diplomatic pressure, Richard finally called the Israeli embassy Friday to formally present his apologies, shortly after the French state, which is the principal minority shareholder in the Orange group, declared it did not support a boycott of Israel.
However, these efforts proved not be enough for Netanyahu, who refused Richard's apology. He held urgent talks with several state officials over the weekend in order to organize the resistance to the growing BDS movement, which he claimed was a threat to Israel's very existence.
Among other measures, Israeli state officials agreed to allocate around US$78 million to the anti-BDS budget and to recruit 1,600 emissaries to fight the movement.
In a conversation with Netanyahu on Sunday evening, French President Francois Hollande repeated his condemnation of the BDS movement, adding he wished to maintain economic ties between the two countries. The EU is Israel's largest import and export market. Netanyahu replied that if Richard really wanted to apologize, he had to do so in person in Israel.
Although France is officially in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state, its position on Israel has clearly shifted over the past 10 years.
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