Orange CEO received death threats over Israel boycott controversy


Orange CEO Stephane Richard received death threats over his controversial remarks about his French telecomm doing business in Israel.

After Richard’s personal details were published online, he received about 100 calls on his phone, including several death threats, Reuters reported.

Richard filed a complaint with a Paris court over the threats last week before traveling to Israel, the French news agency AFP reported, citing unnamed sources. It was not clear whether the threats were from Israel supporters or opponents.

Richard’s visit last week to Israel came in the wake of statements he made earlier this month in Cairo that Orange, which is 25 percent owned by the French government, would end its Israeli presence if it were not contractually bound to the Israeli firm Partner. A day later Orange announced that it would seek to cancel a recently signed 10-year arrangement with Partner in Israel. The announcement led to accusations of a boycott against Israel by the company.

Richards personally apologized in a Jerusalem meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the controversy and said Orange would never support a boycott of Israel.

Orange will never back boycott of Israel, CEO tells Netanyahu


Following a series of seemingly conflicting statements about Israel, the CEO of the French telecommunications giant Orange publicly assured Israel’s prime minister his firm would never boycott the Jewish state.

Stephan Richard, who last week in Cairo appeared to link his firm’s desire to leave Israel with currying favor with Arab countries, gave the assurances Friday during a joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Standing opposite Netanyahu, Richard said he had come to “clear the confusion created after those statements. I regret deeply this controversy and I want to make it totally clear that Orange as a company has never supported and will never support any kind of boycott against Israel.”

The confusion, as Richard called it, was not only over his own statements in Cairo on June 4 but also over his company’s official statement the following day about wanting to leave Israel as part of the company’s strategic decision not to maintain a presence anywhere where it does not directly provide services.

As per a 2000 contract, Orange — which is partly controlled by the French government because the state owns 25 percent of the company’s shares — is represented in Israel by a local affiliate, Partner Communications.

Following the statements by Richard and Orange, Israel called on France to urge Orange to reverse its decision. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his country opposes boycotts of Israel but that Orange was free to chart its own course. After that statement, Richard reiterated his opposition to boycotts against Israel.

But in Cairo, he said Orange would abandon Partner “tomorrow morning” if not for contractual penalties. “I know that it is a sensitive issue here in Egypt, but not only in Egypt,” Richard said. “We want to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries,” Richard added.

Since making that statement, Richard has asked to meet with Israel’s ambassador in France but Netanyahu’s office instructed the embassy to refer Richard to the prime minister’s office. Richard landed in Israel on Thursday.

“We are doing business, we are doing communication, we are here to connect people and certainly not to participate in any kind of boycott,” Richard said. “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.”

During the meeting, Netanyahu said: “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. It will not be achieved through boycotts and through threats of boycotts.”

France ‘opposed’ to Israel boycott amid Orange row


France's foreign minister sought to calm a row with Israel on Friday, saying Paris opposed any boycott of the Jewish state, but stressed telecom firm Orange, which plans to end its license deal there, was free to define its own policy.

“While it is up to the president of the Orange group to define the commercial strategy of its company, France is firmly opposed to any boycott of Israel,” Laurent Fabius said in a statement.

“Moreover, the position of France and the European Union on settlements is consistent and widely known,” he added of the view that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal.

Israel protested to France on Thursday after the head of partly state-owned Orange said it intended to end its brand licensing deal with an Israeli firm, drawing accusations it was bending to pressure from a pro-Palestinian boycott movement.

Commenting on remarks in Cairo on Wednesday by Orange CEO Stephane Richard, the French company said in Paris that terminating the arrangement with Israel's Partner Communications was a business decision, not a political one.

Richard said he was willing to withdraw the Orange brand from Israel “tomorrow morning” but moving too quickly would expose his company to legal risks and possible financial penalties.

“The company has explained that it is a commercial decision. As there was confusion and a difference of interpretation on the decision, the minister has recalled France's position,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal told reporters.

“It is in no way linked to a political decision.”

A senior French diplomat said Richard's comments had been “clumsy.”

France in June 2014 issued a warning to French investors that investments in Israeli settlement areas carried legal risks, a move which raised concerns in Israel.

Israel fears diplomatic and economic isolation because of the stagnation of talks on founding a Palestinian state in the West Bank and settlement construction in those areas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded France “publicly renounce the distressing statement and action” taken by Orange.

French human rights groups have asked the government, which holds a 25 percent stake in the company, to encourage Orange to pull out of its relationship with its local partner.

Israel has said the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, sponsored by pro-Palestinian intellectuals and bloggers, is motivated by anti-Semitism and a desire to paint Israel as illegitimate.

Orange pullout seen as sign of BDS influence on French policy


To Israel’s supporters, the decision by the French telecommunications giant Orange to dump its Israeli affiliate is not only a politically motivated divestment by a major multinational corporation, but a sign that European policymakers are being impacted by efforts to boycott the Jewish state.

Citing the French government’s ownership of a quarter of Orange’s shares, European pro-Israel groups said the move reflected the rising influence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, and France’s growing impatience with Israeli reluctance to make concessions to the Palestinians.

“Orange’s pullout is part of the French government’s attempt to bring Israel to its knees and accept the Pax Europeana,” said Sammy Ghozlan, founder of the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, which has taken legal action against numerous promoters of BDS.

But Orange insists it’s nothing of the sort. In a statement Thursday announcing the termination of its relationship with its Israeli affiliate, Partner Communications, Orange said it was merely effecting a policy to end its presence in countries where it does not directly provide services. Its motivations, the company said, “have nothing to do with any political debate.” Israel is the only country where a third party is using the Orange brand, the firm said.

That claim was made harder to believe by the fact that it came only a day after Orange CEO Stephane Richard, speaking at a conference in Cairo, said he would abandon Partner “tomorrow morning” if not for contractual penalties.

“I know that it is a sensitive issue here in Egypt, but not only in Egypt,” Richard said. “We want to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries.”

Richard later told Ynet he did not mean to suggest the pullout had anything to do with Israel or its conflict with some of its Arab neighbors.

Ghozlan called Orange’s statement “a transparent lie.” Yonathan Arif, the vice president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said Orange may be attempting to avoid prosecution for discriminating against a nation, which is illegal in France.

“Orange is active in many areas where human rights are violated, but Orange does not pull out of there,” Arif said, adding that the French government was ultimately responsible and must “intervene and alter the decision.”

The Anti-Defamation League was not buying Orange’s claim either. Like the CRIF, the ADL pointed its finger at the French government and urged it to “make clear that complying with demands to boycott Israel are illegal under French law and contrary to the country’s national interests and moral values.”

“Orange took a cowardly decision to cave in to demands by the international campaign to boycott Israel,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced a similar appeal to the French government as did Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin

On Friday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius reiterated French opposition to boycotts of Israel, adding that “it is for the president of the Orange group to determine the commercial strategy of the company.”

The furious reaction comes amid mounting concern about the growth of the BDS movement as well as growing anger at the French government. Last month, the CRIF took the rare step of publishing a letter its president, Roger Cukierman, had sent to Fabius complaining about France’s support for United Nations anti-Israel resolutions that are opposed by many other major democratic powers, as well as the reception in March of a convicted Palestinian terrorist at the Foreign Ministry’s headquarters. While the CRIF has conveyed similar messages privately, the publication of its complaint was an exception for an organization that generally aims to cultivate constructive relationships with French officials.

“These policies create a certain atmosphere that is conducive to boycotts,” said Ghzolan. “Orange took its cue from the French government.”

France’s government is not the first to be perceived as encouraging divestment from Israel. In the Netherlands, the Vitens water company in 2013 cited its consultations with the Dutch Foreign Ministry in explaining why it decided to end its cooperation with its Israeli counterpart, Mekorot.

“The influence of BDS on policy is more than a trickle; it’s a flow,” said Shimon Samuels, the Paris-based director for international relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “And it’s happening all over Europe.”

France’s Orange plans to end brand licensing deal in Israel


Israel protested to France on Thursday after the head of partly state-owned French telecom giant Orange said it intended to end a brand licensing deal with an Israeli firm, drawing accusations it was bending to a pro-Palestinian boycott movement.

Commenting on remarks in Cairo on Wednesday by Orange CEO Stephane Richard, the French company said in Paris that terminating the arrangement with Israel's Partner Communications was a business decision, not a political one.

Richard was quoted by media reports as saying at a news conference in the Egyptian capital that he was willing to withdraw the Orange brand from Israel “tomorrow morning” but moving too quickly would expose his company to legal risks and possible financial penalties.

“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,” he was quoted as saying.

The remarks struck a nerve in Israel, which fears diplomatic and economic isolation because of the stagnation of talks on founding a Palestinian state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded France “publicly renounce the distressing statement and action” taken by Orange. The French government holds a 25 percent stake in the company.

In public remarks, Netanyahu also urged Israel's allies “to state loudly, clearly and unconditionally that they oppose every form of boycott against the Jewish state”.

In a statement in Paris a day after Richard's comments, Orange said that in line with its licensing policy, it does not want to keep its brand presence in countries where it is not an operator.

“Within this framework, and while strictly respecting existing accords, Orange would like to put an end to this brand licencing,” the statement said.

In a letter released to the media, Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Tzippi Hotovely voiced deep concern” at “the possibility of a future withdrawal of the Orange brand from Israel”.

She urged Richard to refrain from being “party to the industry of lies which unfairly targets Israel”. Orange said his comments had been taken out of context.

Israel has said the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, sponsored by pro-Palestinian intellectuals and bloggers, is motivated by anti-Semitism and a desire to paint Israel as illegitimate.

The movement accuses Israel of denying basic human rights to Palestinians.

France's Foreign Ministry declined to comment specifically on Richard's comments. But it reaffirmed that France is against any boycott of Israel, while viewing as illegal the settlements it has built in the West Bank, where Partner and other Israeli phone companies also operate.

In a statement, Partner scrambled to head off any public backlash in Israel over Orange's decision, saying “the sole connection between us and France Telecom is the brand”, used by the Israeli company since 1998.

Israeli officials swiftly took to social media to emphasise that Orange has no holding in Partner, which is owned by Saban Capital Group. Partner employees draped a blue-and-white Israeli flag over the Orange logo on the front of company headquarters.

Hebrew word of the week: Tapuz


Tapuz, the word for the orange fruit, is an acronym of tapuah zahav “apple of gold,” as is done in English when we say “SAT” for Scholastic Aptitude Test, or “AIDS” for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Tapuz contrasts with similar “apples”: tapuah(-ets) for “tree-apple,” tapuah-’adamah (or tapud) for “potato” (ground apple). It is named for its color, just as in Italian, tomatoes are pomodoro, “apple of gold.”  

The English word orange is from Persian naranj,* as is the Spanish naranja. Originally from northern India, brought by the Portuguese to Europe, hence in modern Greek: portokali, in Arabic: purtuqal, in modern Aramaic: pirtiqala (or tarinja). 

*The English word “orange” is probably a mistake, derived from norange.  

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Wandering Jew – Blue ‘Oranges’


Last year at the Israel Independence Day Festival in Woodley Park, anti-disengagement activist Shifra Hastings of Los Angeles was clad all over in orange, the color of protest, right down to her painted fingernails. She tirelessly handed out free orange ribbons, bracelets and T-shirts — even orange soda — to passersby at her booth, speaking to them about the dangers of Israel’s planned, unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.

Many festivalgoers were more than glad to take orange ribbons and free orange T-shirts, until there were unmistakable ripples of orange among the sea of people. She believed that she was helping to turn the tide; that people at the festival were influenced by her viewpoints, and that their responsiveness was more than just a desire for free giveaways. She was certain that the disengagement would never actualize.

This year Hastings has no booth. The disengagement happened on schedule in August. Now there’s an expectation of another “disengagement,” sometimes referred to as “convergence,” this time from portions of Judea and Samaria. But while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has made this plan an integral part of his platform, nothing official has been announced, and the protest fervor here and in Israel has not yet fully recharged.

This year for the festival, Hastings is wearing three orange bracelets. She also found some orange ribbons on a “caution” sign, which she removed and tied to her purse. She wouldn’t have attended this year at all if not for some friends she wants to see.

“I feel different than I did a year ago. [Then] I felt hopeful,” says Hastings on the lawn at Woodley Park. “I really didn’t believe it would happen.”

Hastings’ anger is palpable: “The bottom line is that there are two things: There is the land of Israel and government of Israel. The government is garbage that is rotting and festering and needs to be thrown out. I love the land with all my soul.”

This year, one is hard-pressed to find festivalgoers wearing orange T-shirts and orange ribbons. It’s almost as if the disengagement has been forgotten, and Southland Jews and Israelis are celebrating Israel Independence Day as they always have. There is no booth officially representing disengagement evacuees or pro-settler causes, and speeches hardly mention the trauma experienced by evacuees and those in threatened Jewish settlements.

Among festivalgoers who wear orange, and there are a few sprinkled about, it is difficult to tell without asking whether the color was symbolic.

This first postdisengagement Independence Day is filled with mixed emotion among “orange” enthusiasts. Many ponder their relationship to the State of Israel and the unquestioned support they once felt. Many feel that by enforcing a policy of removing Israelis from their homes, destroying their communities and giving over land to a people compromised by terror, the Israeli government has abandoned its mandate to safeguard Jewish communities and the lives of Israeli citizens.

“This year, Yom Ha’Atzmaut is difficult to celebrate fully in the heart, as well as in action,” says Daryl Temkin, recently appointed director of the West Coast branch of the Zionist Organization of America, whose organization is staffing a booth at the festival. Last summer, Temkin, as a private citizen, protested against the disengagement and organized an airlift of goods to assist evacuees after the withdrawal. “Yom Ha’atzmaut has been a contemplative time to focus on what Israel’s future is going to be, given the conditions of the changing face of Israel politics and Israel security.”

Jon Hambourger, founder of the now defunct savegushkatif.org, a grass-roots protest movement with adherents across the United States and Canada, is more forgiving toward the Israeli government but no less worried about the future.

“We can’t afford to be pessimistic,” he says. “It’s a battle every day not to be cynical, but unlike a lot of other ‘crazy’ right-wingers, I don’t see conspiracy theories. I believe everyone is acting in their [perceived] best interest for Israel. I don’t see anything evil about the government.”

Israel Independence Day hits a sour note with him because he questions how independently Israel acts.

“We see over and over again, irrespective of the administration, that when push came to shove, it’s always a matter of how a policy will play out in London or Washington. That has always been a litmus test,” he says.

Aliza Wells, a Los Angeles resident who took part in the protests in Gaza, retains a core of optimism, despite her disgust with the government: “I still believe that the state can be salvaged and turned into a real democracy. It’s an elected dictatorship now.”

She attends the Woodley Park Festival feeling “detached” from the celebratory scene but more committed than ever to move to Israel.

“I’m making aliyah because of what happened,” she says. “We need more Jews who care about Israel living there — who understand that if you want to live in another country, then you can live in another country. But if you live there, then know that it’s going to be Jewish.”

She isn’t too impressed with the festival, which seems to her more “secular” than last year’s, a reflection of the secular turn she believes the State of Israel has taken.

Joshua Spiegelman is among the festivalgoers wearing an orange ribbon in uncompromised celebration of Israel’s birthday. He defends the State of Israel, saying that although he believes the government is misguided, the state remains profoundly important to securing a strong Jewish future.

“My heart is very touched to be here,” he says. “Where else can American Jews be around thousands of Israelis and still feel at home? It’s a moving experience to be around so many Israelis and to see people relaxing, enjoying themselves, and to know that everyone is here for Yom Ha’atzmaut.”

He adds: “I wish I saw more orange.”

Israel – Tourists Unfazed by Gaza Pullout


For visitors to Israel this summer, the disengagement from the Gaza Strip proved hard to ignore.

“Everybody’s orange,” said Rebecca Kaminski, from Berlin, with a laugh, referring to the color adopted by the anti-disengagement activists. “I’m on the blue side, I guess.”

Sitting on the beach in Netanya, the 22-year-old was working on her already impressive tan with a group of girlfriends, all students at a six-week summer ulpan, or Hebrew-language immersion course, in Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon.

They have not been deterred from visiting Israel during its exit from the Gaza settlements and parts of the West Bank.

In fact, Kaminski is thrilled to be here right now.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “We’re in the middle of a country that the whole world is watching. It’s historic.”

Her friend Sharon Asscher, 20, from Amsterdam, was not about to let the idea of trouble thwart her visit here.

“I haven’t come to Israel for five years because of the intifada and I missed it,” she said.

Alona Van t’Hoog, 25, from The Hague in Holland, is also a firm supporter of disengagement.

“I knew that, of course, it was going to be a hard time, but I have faith in the State of Israel and the army so I thought it would be OK,” Van t’Hoog said.

Sitting next to them on the sand, Melis Taragano, from Turkey, was less enthusiastic.

“It’s going to be bad for the Israeli people, I think, because here it’s going to be one big terror,” the 18-year-old said.

Tourism in Israel has yet to return to pre-intifada levels, with native Israelis still the dominant presence on beaches and boardwalks. But visitors are slowly returning as the threat of repeated suicide bombings fades. And with terror on the rise around the world, some vacationers reckon they may as well take their chances in Israel as anywhere else.

“They thought New York City was safe in 2001, and terrorists are blowing up London now, so is anywhere safe?” asks 30-year-old Marquis Cross from Baton Rouge, La., biting into a huge hamburger alongside his cousin James Yage at the Tel Aviv pub Mike’s Place, itself the site of a 2002 suicide bombing that killed three people.

Non-Jewish tourists, the pair have visited Jerusalem and taken in the Tel Aviv beaches, with the Dead Sea still to come.

“These are nice people. This is a fun city,” said Yage, 35, shaking more ketchup onto his fries.

And as for the political situation, “they’ve been going through these problems for years, and it seems pretty calm now,” he added in his Southern drawl.

“It’s pretty interesting, but I don’t have much of a view so I just turn on the sports,” Cross admitted sheepishly.

Dramatic television scenes of orange-clad settlers battling Israeli police and soldiers were ignored by retirees Samuel and Jutta Rosenblat, from Boca Raton, Fla. They were visiting the resort town of Herzliya, along with numerous members of their extended family, as they have for many years. Undeterred by terror in the past, they saw no reason why the disengagement — which they both support — should put them off this year.

“A lot of people in Florida are afraid to come every year because of the suicide bombings,” 82-year-old Jutta said. “It’s important to show that we’re not afraid and we have to support Israel.”

Her 83-year-old husband, a Holocaust survivor who was in five different concentration camps, agreed that showing faith in the Jewish state is vital.

“If we had had Israel before the war, then not so many Jews would have been killed,” he said. “We would have had somewhere to go.”

The disengagement has also provided an unexpected bonus to the tourism industry, especially in the southern parts of the country. Although most Israelis may be avoiding vacationing in the coastal region around Gaza, with the military imposing many restrictions on travel, journalists have flocked to the area.

Thousands of foreign journalists and TV crews snapped up every room in the vicinity, and kibbutzim close to Gaza rented out not only their bed-and-breakfast accommodations but all available spaces in their dining rooms, schools and community centers.