Orange CEO Stephane Richard
Orange CEO Stephane RichardReuters

Stephane Richard, the CEO of the Orange telecom company, on Friday afternoon telephoned Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom to apologize for his remarks earlier this week in favor of a boycott of Israel.

Speaking at a conference in Egypt, Richard said he wished he could dump" Israel "tomorrow". A day later the French company announced it has decided to halt its operations in Israel and end its partnership with the Israeli company Partner, which franchises Orange's name in Israel.

But Richard seemed to back down from his earlier actions on Friday, telling Shalom in the conversation, "I am a friend of Israel, I love Israel, my words were taken out of context and misinterpreted. I apologize on behalf of me and the company for the statements. We at Orange deplore boycotts of any kind.”

Shalom told Richard that the Israeli people were angry and hurt by his words. "It saddens me that you've become a tool in the fight and delegitimization against Israel, and gave a hand to an attack of the enemies of Israel who are trying to hurt us, not only militarily but also economically," the Vice Prime Minister, who also serves as Interior Minister, said.

Richard apologized to Shalom and said he was unaware of the attack being waged against Israel and is not a partner in it.

The remarks are in line with an interview with Richard which appeared in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on Friday. In that interview as well, Richard insisted that his words calling to "dump" Israel were "misunderstood."

Despite having recently signed a 10-year extension deal with Partner, Richard claimed that his statements were due to "business considerations," not his political views.

"It has nothing to do with Israel, we love Israel, we are working and investing money to Israel, we are friends of Israel," he touted. Richard also claimed he was unaware of the global BDS movement against Israel, despite it making headlines on nearly a monthly basis for the past five to ten years - and it being a major source of tension between the European Union and Israel.

"I never said that Orange wants to break away from Israel, I was not aware of the global campaign for a boycott against you, and I'm sorry about that."

Also on Friday, France's foreign minister said Paris was "firmly opposed" to any boycott of Israel.

"Although it is for the president of the Orange group to determine the commercial strategy of the company, France is firmly opposed to a boycott of Israel," Laurent Fabius said in a statement.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)