Op/Ed: Orange controversy points to leaders' anti-Israel distortions and double standards
The opinions expressed in the below article do not reflect the opinions of Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.
By Dr. Stephen Sussman and Dr. Luis Fleischman
An ugly episode occurred in June 2015 when the CEO of the French telecommunications company Orange announced in Cairo that he was willing to withdraw the Orange brand from Israel “tomorrow morning.”
The CEO, Stephane Richard, also negotiated a termination date that enabled the company to remove the use of Orange’s services from Israel.
Mr. Richard initially claimed that the decision was the result of the company’s sensitivity to Arab countries and its desire to be “a trustful partner of all Arab countries.” This claim confirms that the company surrendered – not only to the new anti-Israel boycott movement known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) – but also to the more than 40-year-old Arab League boycott of Israel, which is illegal in the United States of America.
When Richard came under attack, he stated that he opposes boycotts – further justifying his claim that proposing Orange’s withdrawal from Israel was strictly a business decision.
The French government, which owns and controls 25% of Orange, reacted to the episode through its Ambassador to the U.S., Gerard Araud, as well as Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who expressed opposition to boycotts yet claimed that Orange is free to make its own decisions.
It is difficult to believe that the French government has such limited influence over a company of which it controls 25%.
Ambassador Araud less subtly defended the company, claiming that it is “illegal to contribute to occupation of territories under international law.” After making this remark, the Ambassador was challenged by a legal scholar who stated that according to this principle, French companies that operate in other occupied territories – such as Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara or Turkish-occupied Cyprus – could also be liable. The Ambassador replied that he was not actually speaking about international law, but specifically about the Israeli-occupied territories.
The French Ambassador’s response demonstrates a double standard against international law, as well as against the State of Israel.
France views Israel’s settlements as a major obstacle to peace. However, since 2000, the Israeli government has offered major concessions to the Palestinian Authority on numerous occasions – including the division of Jerusalem, withdrawal from most of the territories, land swaps and the dismantling of settlements. These concessions have been selectively forgotten.
The Palestinian Authority has rejected these concessions and made the unreasonable demand that three million Palestinians be made Israeli citizens – an action that by most accounts would lead to civil war. Regardless, France and other western countries have not demanded that the Palestinian Authority give up their impractical demands.
Additionally, the Palestinian Authority’s inability to control extremists and terrorist groups is a major obstacle. Israelis cannot feel safe as long as terrorist groups have the power to undermine their security and the Palestinian government’s stability.
How exactly does a boycott on Israel solve these problems?
Academic and other boycotts against Israel are widely accepted in Europe and beyond. France and the European Union have adopted a policy that prohibits the issuing of grants, funding, prizes or scholarships to Israeli institutions and bodies situated across the pre-1967 Green Line, including the Golan Heights – a strategic asset that faces a part of Syria controlled by radical Islamist groups.
Anti-Israel or pro-boycott language comes, not only from the media, academics and ideologues, but also from highly influential members of mainstream political parties and ecclesiastical institutions, including: the Mayor of Malmo (Sweden), the former Mayor of London, the chairwoman of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee of the Norwegian Parliament, the speaker of the Danish Parliament, and the Church of Sweden.
We expect much more from politicians, intelligent academics and righteous clergymen than to aid in the spread of lies and distortions, which have a clear and harmful influence on citizens who justifiably believe and trust their leaders to provide fact-based perspective.
Meanwhile, there is an appalling absence of statements condemning the murderous nature of Hamas’ actions and the Palestinian Authority’s failure to attempt to control terrorism or negotiate in good faith with Israel.
In the end, Stephane Richard apologized for the comment he made in Cairo, flew to Israel to express his regret, and announced that Orange will continue to operate in Israel. However, the company’s unjust announcement and the French government’s initial endorsement of withdrawal from Israel points to alarming notions held by very powerful entities.
Anti-boycott legislation is now being discussed in the U.S. Congress and in several states, but this action does not suffice against pro-boycott activists’ misleading arguments that must be exposed. The challenge we all face is stopping the spread of defamation – and denouncing every lie, piece by piece.
The opinions expressed in the above article do not reflect the opinions of Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.