Guardian fails to update story falsely suggesting an Orange boycott of Israel

Orange says it plans to terminate contract with brand partner in Israel“, blared the Guardian headline accompanying a June 4th story written by Jerusalem correspondent Peter Beaumont.

Beaumont introduced his story thusly:

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.

Further in the article, Beaumont added the following context.

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.

A simple story of “another” BDS success?

No, not at all.

The Guardian article was based on a developing story, one which changed dramatically since reports first surfaced.
Though the statement by Orange’s CEO Stephane Richard – likely tailored to appeal to his Arab audience – was seized upon by BDS activists as a victory, Richard began almost immediately backing down from his threat to leave Israel amidst an onslaught of fierce criticism from Israeli government officials, investors and anti-boycott activists.
First, Richard made it clear that his company’s decision whether or not to leave Israel would be based purely on business considerations.
Israeli flag draped over Orange sign by protesters (Photo: Ido Erez)
Israeli flag draped over Orange sign by protesters (Photo: Ido Erez)

Since that time, Orange’s CEO jumped down from his original statements even further, and noted that the company is NOT leaving Israel and that his original comments – interpreted by some as indicating support for boycotting Israel – were misunderstood.  He further claimed that he “loves Israel” and “condemns” all boycotts.

The French government also released a statement making it clear that the country is firmly opposed to anti-Israel boycotts.

Indeed, Israeli leaders have been so emboldened by Orange’s about-face that Binyamin Netanyahu “ordered the Israeli embassy in Paris to reject Richard’s request to meet the Israeli ambassador there” in order to apologize for his remarks, demanding instead that he come to Israel to explain his position. Richard accepted Netanyahu’s request.

Recent reports make this about-face clear:

Reuters on June 6th:

Orange has no plans to quit Israel, its chief executive officer said on Saturday, following a row this week over its plan to end a licensing deal there.

Israel protested to France after CEO Stephane Richard said the 25 percent state-owned telecoms group planned to terminate an arrangement with Israel’s Partner Communications, drawing accusations Orange was bending to a pro-Palestinian boycott movement.

Orange does not support any form of boycott, in Israel or anywhere else in the world,” Richard said in comments emailed to news agency Agence France Presse and confirmed by an Orange spokesman.

“Our decision on the use of the brand is motivated – as it is all over the world – solely by our brand strategy. Let me make it very clear that the Orange Group is in Israel to stay.”

Reuters on June 8th:

Orange’s CEO Stephane Richard has accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Israel as he tries to end a diplomatic row sparked by his remarks about ending a licensing deal there.

Israel protested to France after Richard said last week the 25 percent state-owned group planned to terminate an arrangement with Israel’s Partner Communications, and that he would do so “tomorrow morning” if the contracts allowed. Orange later explained the comments as reflecting a broader desire and strategy of not licensing its brand where it was not directly in control of the business.

Seeking to mend ties, Richard denied supporting a boycott of Israel, saying he had been misunderstood. He spoke warmly of Israel in an interview to its biggest-selling newspaper. On Saturday, Orange said it had no plan to quit the country.

Unmoved, Netanyahu instructed the Israeli ambassador in Paris not to accept a request by Richard to meet, diplomatic sources said. “If he wants to explain, he can come to Israel to do so,” one source quoted Netanyahu as saying.

On Monday, an Orange spokesman said Richard welcomed the invitation and opportunity to clear up what he said was a misunderstanding.

“He will go to Israel soon and will provide all the necessary clarifications to end this controversy and reaffirm the group’s commitment,” said the spokesman.

So, the Guardian – in an effort to buttress its desire narrative of a “burgeoning BDS movement” – published a story purporting to show a BDS success, but failed to publish an update to note subsequent facts contradicting their original pro-Palestinian spin. 

UPDATE: Several hours after this post, the Guardian published an AFP report noting that the Orange CEO was “radically opposed to boycotts of Israel. 

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