Orange Chairman and CEO Stephane Richard
Orange Chairman and CEO Stephane RichardReuters

Orange CEO Stephane Richard on Friday told Channel 2 News that he “admires” Israel.

The interview with Richard aired hours after he met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in order to explain his comments last Wednesday in Cairo that he wanted to "dump" Israel "tomorrow" if he could without taking a financial loss. A day later his company announced it was cutting ties with Partner Communications, its Israeli franchisee.

"Israel is a country I admire,” he told Channel 2, adding he was “deeply affected" by the firestorm that his comments caused in Israel.

"First of all, [I was affected] because I'm not a politician. I definitely underestimated the emotions around the issue. I came here today as a friend, not an enemy," said Richard.

"I realized only a few minutes after the press conference [in Cairo] that my words were misunderstood and distorted to some extent,” he continued. "I deeply regret that and regret the misunderstanding which should not have happened. The only issue I mentioned in Cairo was the brand strategy of Orange, referring to the unique situation in Israel. Under no circumstances did I express Orange’s support or my personal support of any kind of a campaign to promote a boycott . We do business, we do not engage in politics.”

Referring to the crisis with the Israeli Partner company which owns the Orange brand in Israel, Richard said, "We have a business relationship with Partner. We are conducting discussions with them and we will assess the situation and discuss the future. The goal of this visit is not to negotiate with Partner. The goal is to clarify our position.”

In his meeting with Netanyahu on Friday, Richard claimed that Orange is against boycotting Israel, as well as any other country, adding, "The vision of Orange, as a communications company, is to connect people. Boycotts are inconsistent with Orange's values."

Netanyahu responded by saying that the meeting is an opportunity for Richard to clarify his words.

"It's no secret that what you said last week was viewed by many as an attack on Israel, so this visit here is an opportunity to set the record straight," Netanyahu said. "Israel is the only country in the Middle East that guarantees full civil rights."

Netanyahu was particularly fierce in his criticism of Orange shortly after the controversy broke, stating that the incident would not be easily overlooked. 

(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.)