Partner CEO to Orange: Pay Up if You Want to Take Away the Brand

Partner tanks on Tel Aviv Stock Exchange after Orange CEO says the French company would cut ties with Israel ‘tomorrow’ but for the cost.

Eyal Toueg

Shares of Partner Communications on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange closed down 1.07% on Thursday, a day after the CEO of France’s Orange told a Cairo audience his company would cut its ties in Israel “tomorrow” were it not for the “huge risk” in terms of penalties. Partner operates under the Orange brand, which it pays the French company to use.

In a letter sent Thursday morning to employees, Partner CEO Haim Romano expressed his shock about the remarks of Orange SA CEO Stephane Richard and said Partner would sue the company for hundreds of millions of euros if it breached its contract with the Israeli company.

Romano noted that Partner is controlled (through Saban Capital Group) by the Israeli-American entertainment magnate Haim Saban, whom he called “one of Israel’s most ardent and committed supporters.” Romano said Saban’s response to Richard’s comments was to express pride in his ownership of Partner, saying in a text message, “Threats will not deter me, I will continue to operate in Israel and lead the battle for Israel in the world.”

“We want to remind everyone,” Romano wrote, “that we are an Israeli company that employs Israelis, Jews and Arabs, women and men, ultra-Orthodox and secular, without regard to religion, background or sex.” Noting that members of the public as well as politicians have come down on Partner’s side in the wake of Richard’s comments, Romano wrote in his employee letter that the incident was part of what he said was a growing movement to boycott Israel. “Today you are ambassadors not only for the company, but for the state.”

Also on Thursday, Israel asked the French government to distance itself from Richard’s remarks.

Speaking Wednesday at a news conference in Cairo to lay out plans for the years ahead in Egypt, Richard said his company intends 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 sizable for the company,” he said.

French human rights organizations have been pushing their government, which has a quarter stake in Orange, and the company itself, to end the relationship because Partner provides services to Israeli settlements.