France 'opposed' to boycott of Israel, FM says amid Orange spat

An ultra orthodox Jewish man walks past a store of Israeli telecom operator Partner, which has now ditched the Orange brand name (AFP Photo/Menahaem Kahana)

Paris (AFP) - France's foreign minister on Friday said Paris was "firmly opposed" to any boycott of Israel as a row rages over telecom group Orange's decision to withdraw its brand from the Jewish state.

"Although it is for the president of the Orange group to determine the commercial strategy of the company, France is firmly opposed to a boycott of Israel," Laurent Fabius said in a statement.

"Also, France and the European Union have a consistent policy on settlement-building that is known to all," added Fabius.

Orange, which is partly controlled by the French government, has insisted that its decision to end its brand-licensing agreement with Partner, Israel's second largest mobile operator, was not politically motivated.

But the decision to axe ties has unleashed a firestorm of criticism, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the company's decision was "miserable."

"I call on the French government to publicly renounce the miserable remarks and the miserable action of a company that is under its partial ownership," Netanyahu said after Orange's announcement on Thursday.

"I call on our friends to unconditionally declare – in a loud and clear voice – that they oppose any kind of boycott of the state of the Jews," he added.

Orange chief executive Stephane Richard has been accused of giving in to a pro-Palestinian campaign and the firm's decision has touched a raw nerve in Israel.

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