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June 12, 2015 5:55 pm

Orange CEO: I ‘Underestimated’ Emotions Stirred by Israel Remarks

avatar by David Daoud

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Orange's CEO said that he underestimated the feelings his comments would arouse. PHOTO: Chaim Tzach.

Orange’s CEO said that he underestimated the feelings his comments would arouse. PHOTO: Chaim Tzach.

The CEO of telecommunications giant Orange, Stephane Richard, said on Friday that he failed to anticipate the full extent of the response to his comments endorsing the withdrawal of his company’s business activity from Israel.

Shortly after arriving in the Jewish state to address the uproar, he told Israel’s Channel 2: “I certainly underestimated the emotions that arose around the issue, and so I have come here as a friend and not an enemy.”

Richard claimed he “realized only a few minutes after that press conference,” in which he declared that Orange wanted to end its contract with Israel’s Partner Communications Co. immediately, “that my words were misunderstood and distorted to a certain extent.”

Richard said that he was “sorry from the bottom of my heart and deeply regrets the misunderstanding, which never had to happen.”

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He noted that the “only issue that I mentioned in Cairo was Orange’s branding strategy, in relation to the uniqueness of the situation in Israel. In no case did I express Orange’s support, or my personal support, of any kind, for the campaign to promote the boycott,” against Israel.

“We do business, we do not engage in politics,” said Richard.

Richard also addressed the break in relations with Partner, which operates under the Orange brand in Israel, saying, “we have a business relationship with Partner. We are conducting a discussion with them and we will work with them to change the situation and discuss this in the future.”

On his current trip to Israel he will not be carrying out the discussions, he said, because “the goal of this visit is not to carry out negotiations with Partner, but to clarify our position.”

Richard later met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem residence.

“The things you said were perceived by many as an attack on Israel,” Netanyahu said.

“Your visit is an opportunity to set the record straight,” the Prime Minister said at the beginning of the meeting, stressing that “Israel is the only country in the Middle East guaranteeing full citizenship rights, under which all are equally protected under the law.”

Netanyahu went on to stress that Israel sought “true and secure peace with our Palestinian neighbors, but that can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions. It cannot be achieved through boycotts or threats of boycotts.”

Richard explained that he was, “deeply sorry about the controversy that erupted, and I want to clarify – Orange’s vision is to connect people, and not to take part in boycotts.”

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