Education Minister Naftali Bennett urged Israelis not to punish the Israeli mobile company Partner, which operates under the Orange brand name, after Orange CEO Stephane Richard said he would end his company's relationship with the Israeli operator.
The Israeli government is currently examining its next step regarding the French mobile phone giant, Bennett said in a Facebook post, urging Israelis who might seek to boycott Partner due to its connection to Orange not to hurt the livelihood of thousands of Israelis.
"Partner is the victim, not the aggressor," Bennett said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely on Wednesday night sent a letter to Richard, urging him to take back his remarks regarding a boycott of Israel.
"I call on you to refrain from taking part in the industry of lies directed against Israel," wrote Hotovely, adding, "I am sure that these reports do not reflect the intentions of your company, and call on you to clarify the issue as soon as possible."
Richard said Wednesday he would end the company's ties with Israel "tomorrow" if it were possible, but has not yet made the decision due to the "huge risk" of penalties involved.
He made the statement during a news conference in Cairo, wherein he described the company's plans in the Egypt for the years ahead. Richard said the Orange brand was looking to withdraw from Israel as quickly as possible, but that doing so would take time.
"Believe me I would cancel the contract tomorrow if I could," Richard was quoted by Egypt's Daily News as saying.
Human rights groups in France have been calling on the government, which owns a quarter stake in Orange, and the company as well, to cut ties with Israel over Partner Communications' business activity in the West Bank settlements.
Partner said in response that it regrets Richard's comments.
"We wish to highlight that Partner Communications is an Israeli company owned by Saban Capital Group, which is owned by Haim Saban, and not by France Telecom (Orange). The company is holding the Orange brand name since 1998, and the only connection between us and France Telecom is the brand name."
Saban, the Egyptian-born Hollywood billionaire who is at forefront of the fight against the BDS movement, said in response: "I am proud to be to controlling shareholder of the Partner company, which is an Israeli owned company, which operates under the Orange brand name. I won't be deterred by threats. I will continue to operate in Israel and lead the international struggle for Israel."
Partner outgoing CEO Haim Romano said, "We regret the words. Partner has held the Orange franchise since 1998 when it was under the ownership of Hong Kong's Hutchison group. Partner will continue to loyally serve its customers in Israel without discrimination or prejudice."
Last month, Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the international community will renew its pressure on Israel over the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, once Iran and the six world powers sign a final nuclear deal at the end of June.
This article originally appeared on i24News