pursuits

U.S. Billionaires Adelson, Saban Vow to Fight Boycotts of Israel

U.S. billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban pledged to fight economic boycotts against Israel amid heightened concern over the threat of international sanctions directed against its policy toward the Palestinians.

The issue gained new prominence after Stephane Richard, chief executive officer of Orange SA, said on Wednesday that the Paris-based telecom company would end its licensing deal with Israel’s Partner Communications Co. “tomorrow” if he wasn’t concerned about legal repercussions. Richard later apologized for his comments, made in response to a question over a threatened boycott of Orange’s Egyptian subsidy, Mobinil, and said they weren’t motivated by political concerns.

“It’s a blatant lie,” said Saban, who owns a controlling stake in Partner, in response to Richard’s clarification. “Any company that chooses to boycott business in Israel, they’re going to look at this case, and once we’re done, they’re going to think twice about whether they want to take on Israel or not,” Saban said in an interview Saturday with Israel’s Channel 2 television.

The Orange controversy reflects increasing pressure in Europe and elsewhere to sanction Israel for settlement policies in the West Bank that most of the world views as violating international law and detrimental to peacemaking with the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has identified the trend to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, popularly called the BDS movement, as a major threat.

The government “is in the midst of establishing an offensive, first an offensive, and also a defense, in the face of attempts to impose boycotts on Israel,” Netanyahu said, according to an e-mail of comments made Sunday at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

Las Vegas

Saban made his comments at a Las Vegas gathering of business executives and pro-Israel activists organized by Adelson, founder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., the world’s largest casino company. Adelson told Channel 2 that he and Saban had put aside their domestic political differences -- Adelson is a major donor to the Republican party, Saban to Democratic candidates -- to work together against the BDS movement and growing anti-Israel sentiment on U.S. college campuses.

“That he’s a Democrat and I’m a Republican has really very little to do with it,” said Adelson, who holds the 25th slot on Bloomberg’s Billionaire’s Index. “We can use our influence, to the extent that both of us have any, with anybody that we know in the administration and congress for the betterment of the relations between the U.S. and Israel.”

Israeli officials view the BDS movement as part of a campaign by the Palestinians to isolate their country diplomatically and economically following the collapse of U.S.- sponsored peace talks last year. BDS advocates say their tactics are the only way to get Israel to stop its settlement policies.

West Bank

West Bank settlements are not the real target of BDS supporters “but our settling of Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa, and of course Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said.

Israeli lawmaker Isaac Herzog, head of the opposition Zionist Union party, said Netanyahu’s policies must share some of the blame for the growing tide of international condemnation.

Contending against the sanctions movement “requires two approaches,” Herzog said Sunday on Israel Radio. “Building a strong and very close connection with the administration in Washington, and a diplomatic initiative to alter our situation, and at both of these, Netanyahu has failed.”

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