Orange Chief Apologizes to Israeli Premier Over Exit Remarks

June 12, 2015 Updated: June 12, 2015

JERUSALEM—The chief executive of French telecom giant Orange SA apologized to Israel’s prime minister on Friday for his recent comments on pulling out of Israel, saying he opposes the boycott movement against the Jewish state and will continue to invest in it.

CEO Stephane Richard stoked anger in Israel last week after announcing he wanted to sever business ties with Israel as soon as possible, citing a desire to improve business relations in the Arab world. On Friday he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he wanted to “clear up the confusion that was created after those statements.”

“I regret deeply this controversy and I want to make totally clear that Orange as a company has never supported and will never support any kind of boycott against Israel,” Richard said.

“We are doing business, we are doing communication, we are here to connect people, certainly not to participate in any kind of boycott. Israel is a fantastic place to be in the digital industry and of course our will is to strengthen and to keep on investing here,” he said.

Richard’s previous comments appeared to give a boost to the boycott campaign that seeks to isolate Israel. He said in Cairo that he would end his company’s relationship with Partner Communications Ltd. “tomorrow” if he could, but that he was bound by a contract for the time being.

Orange has long been a target the anti-Israel campaign known as BDS because its local partner maintains a series of transmission towers in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Israeli media has pointed out that Palestinians, including many senior Palestinian officials, use its services as well.

Israel has grown increasingly jittery as the movement appears to be gaining steam, claiming pro-Palestinian activists are not out to promote peace, but instead aim to “delegitimize” the country’s very existence as a Jewish state.

“It’s no secret that the remarks you made last week were widely seen as an attack on Israel and so your visit here is an opportunity to set the record straight,” Netanyahu told Richard.

“We seek a genuine and secure peace with our Palestinian neighbors, but that can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions,” Netanyahu said. “It will not be achieved through boycotts and through threats of boycotts.”