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Orange says it plans to terminate contract with brand partner in Israel

French telecoms giant has been under pressure to end relationship with Partner over services to Israeli settlements regarded as illegal under international law

Speaking at a news conference in Cairo, Stephane Richard says his company intends to withdraw the Orange brand from Israel as soon as possible
Speaking at a news conference in Cairo, Stephane Richard says his company intends to withdraw the Orange brand from Israel as soon as possible. Photograph: Thomas Hartwell/AP

The French telecoms giant Orange has indicated that it intends to terminate its relationship with the Israeli company that licenses its brand in the country

And would end the relationship “tomorrow” if it could.

The comments – made by the company’s CEO, Stephane Richard – have emerged amid a sharp push back by the Israeli government against growing calls for an international boycott of Israel over its continuing occupation of Palestinian territories.

They were angrily condemned by the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who called on the French government to “distance itself publicly from the miserable statement and the miserable action of a company that is partially owned by the government of France.”

Although Orange only licenses its name to the Israeli company Partner, the threat – if carried through – will be seen as a major success for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement which has been campaigning on the issue in both France and Egypt.

Orange, in which the French government has a quarter stake, has been under pressure in France as well as in Egypt to terminate its relationship with Partner over its supply of services to Israeli settlements regarded as illegal under international law.

Last month Orange was accused of flouting the French foreign ministry’s own guidelines on investing in Israel by the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development.

In a report published in May the group claimed that Partner had built more than 100 telecommunication antennas on confiscated Palestinian land, as well as operating four shops in Israeli settlements.

Speaking at a news conference in Cairo to lay out plans for the years ahead in Egypt, Richard said that his company intended to withdraw the Orange brand from Israel as soon as possible, but that the move would take time.

“I am ready to abandon this tomorrow morning but the point is that I want to secure the legal risk for the company. I want to terminate this, once again, but I don’t want to expose Orange to a level of risk and of penalties that could be really sizeable for the company,” he said.

Richard said his company’s stance on the matter was the result of its sensitivity to Arab countries.

“I know that it is a sensitive issue here in Egypt, but not only in Egypt … We want to be one of the trustful partners of all Arab countries.”

He added that the brand fees from the contract with Partner were low compared to the size of Orange, saying that “the interest for us is certainly not a financial interest”.

“If you take those amounts on one side and on the other side the time that we spend to explain this, to try to find a solution and the consequences that we have to manage here but also in France, believe me it’s a very bad deal,” he added.

At the news conference, Richard explained that the use of the Orange brand name in Israel dated back to the 1990s, under a contract inherited by the group when France Telecom acquired Orange.

Recent negotiations have put Orange in a position where it can terminate the contract in the future, but at the moment the legal framework was not favourable, he said. Partner is Israel’s second biggest mobile company.

Partner said in response that it regrets Richard’s comments.

“We wish to highlight that Partner Communications is an Israeli company owned by Saban Capital Group, which is owned by Haim Saban, and not by France Telecom (Orange). The company is holding the Orange brand name since 1998, and the only connection between us and France Telecom is the brand name.”

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, wrote to Richard asking for clarification.

“I must admit to have been taken aback by these reports which do not become a responsible global company such as Orange,” she wrote. “I am confident that these reports do not reflect the intent of your company. I therefore urge you to clarify the matter as soon as possible.”

Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid party, also attacked Richard for the comments, and called on state-run France Telecom, which owns a majority stake in Orange, to distance itself from the comments.

“This is hypocrisy of the highest order,” he said in a statement. “I don’t remember him having a problem making money here and profiting from Israeli citizens. The state of Israel is an island of sanity in this difficult neighbourhood and we certainly won’t accept lessons in morality from someone so self-righteous and detached.”

The row over Richard’s comments came as the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, pointedly remarked that the threats to boycott Israel were being driven, in part, by a lack of peace negotiations.

“The problem is that now there are no negotiations,” Shapiro told Israel Radio.

“In the past when there were negotiations, that was the most effective tool to tell other countries, perhaps private companies as well, not to impose sanctions because that would upset efforts to reach a solution.”

The French telecommunication multinational Orange joined the battle front with Israeli units bombing Gaza people 

Orange, previously France Telecom,  with its Israeli subsidiary Partner Communications Ltd, has been directly aiding Israeli military units for a decade now.

Orange participated in providing all the necessary advanced telecommunication equipment and subsidising Israeli soldiers under the adoption projectAmetz Lohem” for the tank division EZUZ since  2005 and the division for Shachar since 2008.

During Israel  savage preemptive war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, Orange was on the battle front, particularly with the tank division Ezuz and commanded by Aryeh Berger, and provided all the facilities and communication batteries needed to resume the bombing of Gaza for an entire month. Free of charge.

Israel dropped what amounted to an atomic bomb during these 51 days of horror and total genocide tactics. Tanks were ordered to cross over gardens, cultivated lands and houses as training learning sessions.

Orange is an important mobile and internet supplier in Europe, Africa, the Middle-East, including Jordan and Egypt (Mobinil)

If the International Penal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity is serious in investigating and prosecuting the calamities in Gaza, all it has to do is subpoena Orange for all the direct videos and communication that were taken during the war.

The Israeli affiliate of Orange, the French multinational telecom company, provided direct material support to Israeli soldiers who participated in the deadly assault on Gaza last summer.

The firm has also sponsored two Israeli military units for several years, evidence of its deep complicity in Israeli military occupation and human rights abuses.

One of these units, the “Ezuz” tank company, took part in last summer’s attack on Gaza and was active in specific locations where hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed.

Orange, previously known as France Telecom, is a major provider of mobile phone, land line and Internet services in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, including in Jordan and Egypt (through its subsidiary Mobinil). In the UK, Orange operates as part of a joint venture called EE, and in Belgium it owns a big stake of Mobistar.

In Israel, Orange makes its profits by licensing its brand to an independently owned Israeli company called Partner Communications Ltd. and selling equipment and other services to it.

Helping the attack on Gaza

Israeli warplanes and artillery dropped the equivalent of an atomic bomb on Gaza during 51 days last July and August, killing more than 2,200 Palestinians, among them more than 500 children, and destroying vast areas.

According to Amnesty International, Israeli forces operated with “callous indifference to the carnage caused” by their attacks.

Entire families were wiped out as Israeli forces systematically and deliberately targeted civilian homes.

Throughout this horror, which Israel dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” Orange was on the front lines providing material support and boosting the morale of those carrying out the assault.

Orange waived service fees for soldiers “located in the area around Gaza” during the attack, Israel Hayom reported.

Every day during the assault, Orange sent “three mobile units to the soldiers’ gathering spots around Gaza,” the website Frumline reported in a 22 July 2014 article headlined “Orange in action on the border due to Operation Protective Edge.”

“The mobile units are equipped with generators, chargers for all types of devices, hundreds of fully charged batteries, and cellular devices, to allow soldiers to be in contact with their homes,” Frumline stated.

In Gaza, Palestinians who survived the assault have told of Israeli soldiers executing their relatives in cold blood.

Meanwhile in Israel, dozens of Orange employees fanned out across the country, visiting Israeli soldiers “and distributing tablet computers, to make their time in the hospital more pleasant.”

“Adopt a soldier”

Orange’s support for the Israeli military long predates last summer’s attack on Gaza.

“Our ongoing association with the soldier population began with the establishment of the Adopt A Soldier project by the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers,” Orange says on the “corporate responsibility” page of its Israel website.

As part of this project, the company has “adopted” two units: the “Ezuz” armored company, since 2005 and, since 2008, the “Shachar” search and rescue unit.

Dozens of firms, the vast majority Israeli, take part in the Adopt A Soldier project – “Ametz Lohem” in Hebrew. Among the more well-known internationally are the Israeli airline El Al and Strauss, the maker of Sabra brand hummus.

The participation of a multinational like Orange stands out – the only other readily recognizable international firm is the business services company Ernst & Young, which sponsors a drone unit.

According to the Orange website, the “adoption” consists of “joint activities of the soldiers with employees of the company, such as: sports, use of company facilities for training and conferences, support for lone soldiers, accompanying discharged soldiers on their pathway to civilian life and financing battalion-wide entertainment activities: hikes, athletics days, awards ceremonies for outstanding soldiers, and more.”

Ezuz in the attack on Gaza

shiryon.jpg

An article in Shiryon (Armor) glorifies the role of the Orange-sponsored “Ezuz” armored brigade in the summer 2014 assault on Gaza.

An article in the November 2014 edition of the Israeli military magazine Shiryon (Hebrew for “Armor”) reveals that the Ezuz unit directly participated in the attack on Gaza and was present at times and places where hundreds of civilians were killed and thousands of homes destroyed.

Unit commander Lt. Colonel Aryeh Berger tells Shiryon that Ezuz was part of a force that invaded Deir al-Balah in central Gaza. There, he says that his men “attacked homes of Hamas activists” and “purified” buildings.

Human Rights Watch condemned Israel’s deliberate targeting of homes, merely under the pretext that they allegedly belonged to the families of persons associated with Hamas or other armed resistance organizations, as “unlawful.”

Berger also reveals that his unit was active in the area of Khan Younis in southern Gaza at the same time that an Israeli soldier, Hadar Goldin of the Givati brigade, was reported captured near the city of Rafah, to the south. That capture occurred on 1 August 2014.

This places the Ezuz unit in two specific areas where mass killings took place.

In the Khan Younis area, Berger says his forces were tasked to “isolate” a village – which he does not name. Once the report of Goldin’s capture came, Berger says “we had to leave our task urgently and reinforce the Givati brigade, and we got there within three hours.”

050814_yq_00_15.jpg

Palestinians search through rubble of their destroyed houses hit by Israeli strikes in Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, in the Gaza Strip, 5 August 2014.

(Yasser Qudih / APA images)

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that dozens of civilians were killed in and around Khan Younis by airstrikes and shelling from tanks and gunboats.

On 1 August, during a short-lived “humanitarian ceasefire,” medical crews, journalists and residents entered the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, which had been besieged by Israeli forces. They found the bodies of dozens of dead civilians.

Some had been killed while trying to leave, waving white flags. Others died as their homes were destroyed on top of them.

The UK’s Channel 4 documented scenes of destruction and carnage as people entered the village on 1 August:

The harrowing effects of the broken Gaza ceasefire | Channel 4 News

In Rafah – presumably where Ezuz redeployed to reinforce the Givati brigade following the reported capture of Goldin – Israeli forces implemented the so-called “Hannibal Directive”: they carpet bombed the town by land, sea and air, killing more than two hundred civilians and destroying more than 2,500 homes.

There were so many dead that local hospitals were forced to store corpses and body parts in ice cream coolers.

While in Gaza, Ezuz commander Berger says he ordered his men not to drive on roads or through intersections.

When tank commanders asked where they should drive, Berger replied “Everywhere else!”

He saw the assault on Gaza as a rare training opportunity:

“I assigned one of my company commanders to document some of this by video, so we can illustrate it in training, show them for example how a tank drives through a grove of trees, because they don’t believe this is possible, or how the tank shoots in different situations. Because in training we don’t have planted grove areas we can keep running over, or a variety of ‘live’ houses to shoot at.”

This is the unit Orange has sponsored for a decade.

“Corporate social responsibility”

Orange says it has a comprehensive global program on “corporate social responsibility.”

The company claims that “our commitment to corporate citizenship means that everything we do is for a single purpose: using digital technologies to speed up progress for society.”

But by supporting the Israeli army through its Israeli affiliate, Orange has been helping to speed up the destruction of Palestinian society and to kill and injure thousands of people.

Although Orange does not own Partner Communications Ltd., it remains responsible and liable for Partner’s activities done in its name and with its brand.

Orange directly derives profits from Partner’s activities through its royalty agreement, supplies Partner with equipment and is responsible for the stewardship and reputation of the Orange brand worldwide.

Brand Israel

The parent company, moreover, appears to be fully complicit in helping Israel whitewash its reputation. In May 2014, its Orange Institute think-tank sponsored a conference in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem called “How Israel became a Tech Lab for the World.”

The promotional material says that in 2014 “the brand of ‘Israel as Startup Nation’ is shining even more brightly than when Orange Institute first visited in 2011.”

“From this small country of eight million people,” Orange Institute gushes, “we continue to see oversized returns.”

The conference promoted such topics as “civilian drone use” and “cyber-security innovations within the Israeli cyber ecosystem.”

Orange wants to claim credit for initiatives “supporting digital literacy” and promoting “eco-friendly solutions.”

It should also be held accountable for its complicity in Israel’s war crimes in Gaza. Consumers might do that by refusing to be Orange customers.

Orange has already come under pressure from French civil society over its Israeli affiliate’s complicity in Israeli colonization of the occupied West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights.

A statement signed by dozens of French groups calls on Orange to end its deal with Partner Communications Ltd. over the latter’s operations on occupied lands.

Last year, the French government warned French businesses of the risks of doing business in Israeli settlements in occupied territories that are illegal under international law.

But there is also the possibility that Palestinian individuals or human rights groups could seek to hold Orange accountable for providing material support to war crimes – including in the form of equipment it supplies to Partner – under the emerging doctrine of corporate liability for gross human rights abuses.

Orange’s press office at its headquarters in Paris did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

With thanks to Dena Shunra for providing research and translation

Orange fournissant un service gratuit aux soldats israéliens déployés près de Gaza pendant l’attaque qui a tué plus de 2200 Palestiniens l’été dernier.
La filiale israélienne de la compagnie de télécommunications française a « adopté » une…
bdsfrance.org|By admin

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