Amid Orange furor, Hollande reiterates anti-boycott stand to Netanyahu

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — French President Francois Hollande, trying to contain the fallout from the controversy over a French telecom company, reiterated his strong opposition to anti-Israel boycotts in a conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hollande in Sunday night’s phone conversation also told the Israeli leader that he wanted to maintain the economic ties between France and Israel.

The conversation followed statements last week by Orange CEO Stephane Richard in Cairo that his company, which is 25 percent owned by the French government, would end its Israeli presence if it were not contractually bound to Partner. A day later the company announced that it would seek to cancel a recently signed 10-year arrangement with Partner in Israel.

Orange has not directly reached out to Partner since Richard’s Cairo remarks, the company said.

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Netanyahu and Hollande reportedly also discussed the current negotiations on a nuclear agreement between Iran and the world powers, including France.

Netanyahu on Sunday, in his capacity as acting foreign minister, instructed the Foreign Ministry to turn down a request by Richard to meet with the Israeli envoy in France, saying he could come to Israel to set the record straight.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Friday that France opposes boycotts but would not intervene in the dispute.

Richard in an interview on Saturday with the French news agency AFP denied that his company’s decision to end a brand-licensing agreement with Partner was a message that it was seeking to withdraw from Israel. Richard said that he “sincerely” regretted the “controversy,” according to AFP.

A day earlier, Richard had told the Israeli news website Ynet that he did not mean to say that Orange was pulling out of Israel for political reasons.

“We are friends of Israel, it has nothing do with Israel, we love Israel,” he reportedly said. “My words were misunderstood; I spoke of a purely business issue.”

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