Palestine solidarity activists can chalk up a significant win as the French multinational telecom company Orange is dumping its Israeli affiliate.
The Orange Israel brand will cease to exist in February, the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz reports.
This news comes just eight months after an international boycott campaign was launched against Orange over its support for Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza and its complicity in Israel’s colonization of the occupied West Bank.
Orange has operated in Israel through a franchise agreement with the independently owned company Partner Communications Ltd.
Partner pays royalties to Orange and a share of its profits for using its brand name.
Through this arrangement, Orange has 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.
A long-standing campaign by French activists calling on Orange to end its business in Israeli settlements received a major boost last May when the activist group BDS Egypt called for a boycott of Mobinil.
A wholly owned Orange subsidiary, Mobinil has 33 million mobile subscribers in Egypt.
Orange, directly and through its subsidiaries, has about 250 million customers in dozens of countries including France, Belgium, Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia and Iraq.
Gaza war crimes
The boycott campaign was galvanized by The Electronic Intifada’s exposé of Orange’s direct complicity in Israel’s summer 2014 war in Gaza.
Orange Israel provided direct material support to Israeli soldiers who participated in the deadly assault that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and devastated much of the coastal territory.
The firm has also sponsored two Israeli military 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 June, Orange CEO Stéphane Richard announced in Cairo that he would end the contract with Partner Communications “tomorrow” if he were not bound by contractual obligations.
But following a furious Israeli backlash, Richard traveled to Jerusalem for a humiliating dressing down by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Richard repudiated any claim that his company was participating in a boycott of Israel.
Yet despite the Israeli government’s outraged reaction, Orange amended its contract with Partner so it could get out of the country as soon as 2017, instead of 2025.
While also saying it opposed boycotts, the French government tacitly backed the campaigners who said that Orange should have no business in Israel’s West Bank settlements.
Orange nonetheless retains some activities in Israel: in September it contributed to a $17 million investment in an Israeli Internet startup.
According to Haaretz, Partner will receive $54 million in compensation from Orange for ending use of its brand.
Partner could have continued using the Orange brand for several more months, but “skidding profits” made the cash deal attractive for the money-losing firm, Haaretz adds.
The Israeli company will now have to undertake an expensive and risky rebranding campaign.
Partner is controlled by the Israeli American tycoon Haim Saban, a big financier of anti-Palestinian propaganda initiatives and a major donor to Democratic Party US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
Last July, Clinton vowed to join forces with Saban to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.