In a letter to Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), Orange CEO Stephane Richard again proclaimed his “affection” for Israel, and said that he had been “badly hurt by the firestorm that was created, and by the many aggressive comments” made by Israelis on the matter. “These comments were based on something I didn't even say. I am a friend of Israel, I visit here a great deal. This is dynamic and creative country.”
Richard was responding to a demand by Hotovely that Richard retract remarks made in Cairo last week, in which he said that his company would, if it could, “tomorrow” cut off a licensing deal with Israel's Partner Communications. In a letter to Richard, Hotovely demanded that Richard “refrain from taking part in the industry of lies directed against Israel. I am sure that these reports do not reflect the intentions of your company, and call on you to clarify the issue as soon as possible.”
According to reports, Richard said in a Cairo speech last week that he “did not want” a business relationship with Israel. The only reason Orange has not terminated its franchise contract with Partner – from which, Richard said, “we make very little money” - was to avoid litigation in Israeli courts.
The comments evoked a firestorm in Israel, with many accusing Richard of buckling to pressures by groups demanding a boycott of Israel. Richard denied that this was the case, and that if there was a question about Orange's relationship with Israel, it was a business issue only. Richard told Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom last week that he “loves Israel."
"I am a friend of Israel, I love Israel, my words were taken out of context and misinterpreted. I apologize on behalf of myeself and the company for the statements. We at Orange deplore boycotts of any kind."
“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,” he said in an interview later.