Orange CEO apologises to Israelis for “misunderstood” comments

The CEO of mobile giant Orange has apologised for a statement he made on Wednesday which suggested that he wishes to end the company’s presence in Israel, calling the comments “misunderstood.”

At a press conference in Egypt’s capital Cairo on Wednesday Stephane Richard talked about the Orange presence in Israel, which is operated by the Partner Communications franchise. He said, “I am ready to abandon this tomorrow morning but … I want to secure the legal risk for the company,” adding, “I want to terminate this, once again, but I don’t want to expose Orange to a level of risk and of penalties.”

The comments sparked immediate condemnation among Israeli leaders, especially as concern of a growing campaign to delegitimise Israel and exclude the country from international forums has dominated Israeli media and public debate this week. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the French government, which owns a 25 per cent share of Orange, to distance itself from Richard’s comments. He called on the “French government to publicly repudiate the miserable statement and miserable action by a company that is under its partial ownership.” Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely wrote with “deep concern” to Richard, saying she had been “been taken aback by these reports, which do not become a responsible global company.”

However, Yediot Ahronot this morning publishes an exclusive interview with Richard, seeking to explain his comments. Richard said his comments were “misunderstood” and in fact, “I love Israel.” Explaining further, he commented, “I never said that Orange wants to pull out of Israel … I am strongly offended by the idea that anyone would think that we want to leave Israel for political reasons.” Richard said, “I meant that it was not our policy to permit use of the brand when we are not the operators.” He said that Orange wishes to remove its brand where it is not a direct service provider, pointing to examples in Switzerland and Dominican Republic where such a process had taken place.

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