JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli Cabinet minister on Thursday called on the French president to fire the chief executive of telecom giant Orange SA, highlighting a wave of public anger over the French company’s stated goal of severing ties with Israel.
Culture Minister Miri Regev issued her appeal a day after Orange’s CEO, Stephane Richard, said in Cairo that he would end his company’s relationship with Partner Communications Ltd. “tomorrow” if he could, but that he was bound by a contract for the time being. He cited the company’s sensitivity to Arab countries.
“The French government must show zero tolerance for anti-Semitism,” Regev said in a text message. She also urged Jewish customers of Orange in France and around the world to drop their service and switch carriers.
In a statement issued in Paris, Orange sought to clarify that wants to pull out of Israel for business reasons, not political ones.
It said it doesn’t want to maintain a presence in countries where Orange itself is not a phone provider, and that the move is “in conformity with its brand policy.”
Orange said it “has no reason to take part … in a debate of a political nature.”
French human rights groups have been pushing their government and Orange to end the relationship over Partner Communications’ activities in Israeli settlements.
With Richard’s comments, Orange appeared to becoming the largest and best-known company to yield to pressure by a global movement calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Israeli officials say the so-called BDS movement is not out to promote peace, but instead aims to “delegitimize” the country’s very existence as a Jewish state.
Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzippi Hotovely, sent a letter to Richard asking him to clarify his comments. “I appeal to you to refrain from being party to the industry of lies which unfairly targets Israel and eagerly await your response,” she wrote.
The French government, which has good relations with Israel, holds a 13.45 percent stake in Orange.
Associated Press Writer Angela Charlton contributed from Paris.