technology

Orange CEO Visits Israel for Damage Control Over Controversy

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Orange SA Chief Executive Officer Stephane Richard arrived in Israel on Thursday, a week after his comments about the phone company’s desire to pull out of the country led to a diplomatic storm.

Richard is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will use the occasion to clarify Orange’s commitment to Israel, according to an e-mailed statement. The 53-year-old also plans to gather with employees during the two-day visit, said a representative for Orange, which is France’s largest telecommunications provider.

The executive said on June 3 in Cairo that his company would get out of Israel if it could, and later apologized for the remarks. Netanyahu, who has identified the trend to boycott, divest and sanction Israel as a major threat, called Richard’s comments “despicable” and urged the French government to publicly denounce what is popularly called the BDS movement.

The controversy reflects increasing pressure in Europe and elsewhere to sanction Israel for settlement policies in the West Bank that much of the world views as violating international law and detrimental to peacemaking with the Palestinians. Israel maintains that sovereignty over the territories is in dispute and can be resolved only in negotiations with the Palestinians that lead to a peace agreement.

During his visit, Richard will meet former President Shimon Peres. He will also visit Viaccess-Orca, a technology company owned by Orange. Earlier, he visited Orange Fab, an incubator for communications technology start-ups operated by the company.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last week, after Richard’s remarks, that he “firmly opposed” any boycott.

Richard said in Cairo that Orange would sever relations with Israel’s Partner Communications Co. “tomorrow” if he wasn’t concerned about potential legal penalties. He later said that the remarks were motivated by business considerations rather than political concerns.

Partner renewed its contract in March to use the Orange brand for 10 more years.

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