Saban Slams Orange ‘Threats’ to Cut Ties With Israeli Provider – Bloomberg Business
U.S. billionaire Haim Saban criticized French telecom company Orange SA for saying it intends to cut ties with his Partner Communications Co. holding for providing mobile service to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Orange SA Chief Executive Officer Stephane Richard told reporters in Cairo on Wednesday that he would cut the company’s ties with Israel’s Partner “tomorrow” if he wasn’t concerned over potential legal penalties. Partner says it renewed its contract in March to use the Orange brand for 10 more years.
“I am proud to be the controlling shareholder in Partner, which is an Israeli company that leases the Orange brand,” the Israeli-born Saban, chairman and chief executive officer of Saban Capital Group Inc., said 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.”
The dust-up reflects increasing pressure in Europe and elsewhere to sanction Israel for settlement policies in the West Bank that most of the world views as violating international law and detrimental to the peace process with the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has identified the trend to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, popularly called the BDS movement, as a major threat to his country.
The BDS movement in France has targeted Orange for its ties with Partner, staging a protest at the company’s annual meeting in Paris on May 27, and organizing a boycott of its Egyptian subsidy, Mobinil. Its licensing agreement with Partner resulted from the acquisition of the Orange telecom brand once owned by Hong Kong’s Hutchinson Whampoa Ltd., an original investor in Partner.
“Partner is an Israeli company owned by Saban Capital Group and the public and is not owned by Orange,” Partner said in an e-mailed statement. “Partner has held the Orange brand since 1998, and the only tie between us and Orange is the brand.”
Saban, a strong supporter of Israel with close political and personal ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, acquired shares in Partner in 2013. Saban Capital now holds a 30.48 percent stake in the company, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Richard’s comments also spurred rebukes from Israeli officials. “This is hypocrisy of the highest order, I don’t remember him having a problem making money here and profiting from Israeli citizens,” parliament member and former finance minister Yair Lapid said. “I call upon the French government, which owns a substantial amount of shares in Orange, to distance itself from the irresponsible statements of the CEO.”