Campaigners hail “inspiring” BDS victory as Orange quits Israel

Orange providing free service to Israeli soldiers deployed near Gaza during the assault in the summer of 2014 that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians. The Israeli affiliate of the French telecom company has “adopted” a military unit that was in action in locations where hundreds of civilians were killed. (via Frumline)

Palestine rights campaigners are hailing a major victory after France’s Orange confirmed that it has met their key demand to end its relationship with its Israeli affiliate.

The news that the multinational telecom is ending its contract with Israel’s Partner Communications had been reported earlier this month in Israeli media.

It is now official that the Orange Israel brand will cease to exist.

“Bad for business”

“This news is a significant success for the BDS movement and shows that international companies and investors are waking up to the fact that being linked to Israel’s regime of colonization, occupation and apartheid is bad for business,” Guman Mussa, the Arab-world campaigns officer with the Palestinian BDS National Committee, the Palestinian coalition that leads the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, said.

“We congratulate and thank all of the activists and organizations involved in this inspiring six-year international campaign,” Mussa added.

The campaign calling on Orange to cut ties with Partner began in 2010 and involved unions and campaign groups in France, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, countries in which Orange or its affiliates have millions of mobile phone subscribers.

The campaign received a major boost last May when BDS Egypt called for a boycott of Orange subsidiary Mobinil, which has 33 million Egyptian customers.

Within weeks, Orange CEO Stéphane Richard announced in Cairo that he wanted to end his company’s agreement with Partner as soon as practicable.

Orange had “no choice”

“The termination of Orange’s relationship with Partner is a significant victory for the BDS movement,” said Abdulrahman Abou Salem of BDS Egypt, a coalition of trade unions, political parties and campaign groups.

Orange has denied that it was acting in response to the boycott and has said it was ending the relationship with Partner purely for commercial reasons.

But Abou Salem noted that just weeks before pressure on Mobinil escalated and CEO Richard rushed to Cairo, Orange had renewed its contract with Partner for a further 10 years.

With the prospect of mass boycott looming, Abou Salem asserted, “Orange had no choice but to realize that investing in occupation, profiteering from Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land and involvement in violations against Palestinian rights is a commercially bad investment.”

Partner Communications, which operated under the Orange Israel brand, built and operated extensive mobile telephone infrastructure in Israel’s settlements built on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank in violation of international law.

By aiding and profiting from this, Orange participated in systematic violations of Palestinian rights, according to an investigation published last year by a coalition of French and Palestinian human rights and labor organizations.

Orange Israel also provided free service and other support to Israeli soldiers during the summer 2014 assault on Gaza in which Israeli forces killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children.

Orange Israel also sponsored two Israeli army units, one of which – the “Ezuz” tank battalion – took part in the attack on Gaza and was active in locations where hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed in war crimes.

“Victory”

In France, the trade unions Solidaires and the Orange Sud PTT Federation, which represents Orange workers, have welcomed the end of Orange’s relationship with Partner.

Taoufiq Tahani, president of the Association France-Palestine Solidarité, noted that the decision “followed the mobilization, over several years, of numerous organizations committed to solidarity with Palestine.”

FIDH, the International Federation for Human Rights, which co-authored the report into Orange’s complicity in Israel’s crimes, called the end of Orange’s deal with Partner “a victory for all defenders of international law and human rights.”

Among the many taking part in protests and actions, from high-street Orange stores in French cities to the company’s annual general meeting in Paris, were activists with BDS France.

“BDS France which, together with other partners, has waged this battle for years, celebrates this victory for ethics and for international law against a state that respects neither,” the group said.

The victory for a campaign focused on France and on a French company is all the more significant given the escalating repression BDS activists have faced at the hands of the administration of President François Hollande.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee notes that Orange is not the first major French company to exit the Israeli market under boycott pressure.

Last summer the municipal services and transport firm Veolia completed its withdrawal from Israel and the occupied West Bank after a seven-year campaign which cost the company billions of dollars in contracts with municipalities and governments all over the world.

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It has been a long time coming but BDS is coming together now, thanks to the steadfastness of people like Ali and all good people of conscience. No person or corporation with a smidgen of decency can do business with the terrorist state of Israel. "Diplomacy" has done nothing to end the occupation and oppression of Palestinians by Israel but BDS can break Israel's back.

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Wonderful news. And by the way, how about bringing mass pressure to bear on the French government to release BDS prisoners and cease prosecution of boycott advocates? In other contexts such people are usually termed "prisoners of conscience". Apparently it's no crime in France to support illegal settlements and cheer on massacres of Palestinians, so why should opponents of these actions be subjected to official repression?

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Great news! I hope more firms will follow soon.. who profits from Israeli occupation / human rights violations, like G4S (Groupe 4 Shame).