The following piece was originally printed in Times of Israel and can be read in its entirety below:
You can't un-ring the bell.
Yes, international telecom giant CEO Stephane Richard did sort of apologize this weekend for his statement last week that "[o]ur intention is to withdraw from Israel..." and further saying if it were financially feasible, he would terminate his company's relationship "tomorrow" with Partner, the Israeli company that licenses the Orange name in Israel.
After a huge backlash, from the Israeli government and a variety of business and Jewish groups, including B'nai B'rith, Richard tweeted this weekend:
This is a clear case of being disingenuous. The pandering to the BDS camp (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement), which is encouraged by the Palestinian authority, appears to have backfired in this case and it looks as if Orange is scrambling for needed cover. Backed by the Palestinian Authority and deeply active among a range of non-governmental organizations and on college campuses, BDS aims to single out Israel for unjust discrimination and harm.
This insidious movement's goal is to undermine Israel at every turn.
Both the arrogance and shamelessness of Richard are noteworthy for his absolute lack of pretense: the original statement said he would leave Israel tomorrow if Orange wouldn't be sued.
The fact that he was in Egypt when he made his original statement about cutting ties with Orange's Israeli partner only adds to speculations about his actual motives.
Orange's statement that Richard soon will visit Israel may not necessarily undo the damage.
In Israel, many major figures across the political spectrum called the comments by Richard an outrage. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called "on the French government to publicly repudiate the miserable statement and miserable action by a company that is under its partial ownership."
With the French government holding a 25 percent stake in Orange, protests have poured into French government offices at the highest level, prompting Foreign Minister Laurent Faubius to say France is against boycotts of Israel.
It took a huge, international outcry for Richard to retreat and tell the media: "We love Israel," and that this is not a boycott, but a "business decision." But whatever he calls it now doesn't really make a difference.
We don't yet know what result will come from his visit to Israel, but terrible damage has already been inflicted by Richard, giving aid and comfort to the BDS movement, and giving additional incentives to the Palestinians to keep driving for international pressure on Israel, rather than negotiating an end to the conflict.
This kind of rhetoric and "business decision" aimed at punishing Israel economically has a whiff of the 1930s to it. Whatever one might think of the Israeli settlement enterprise, globally isolating Israel is a non-starter. The BDS movement now includes corporate and other bullying. Israel will surely not be intimidated by such activity. A wide range of issues needs to be worked out through face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. BDS, now bolstered by Richard, seeks only to intimidate, bully and delegitimize the State of Israel and its standing in the world. Boycotts and business pull-outs don't advance the idea of a peaceful resolution of this conflict; they only set it back further.
As France works on proposing what appears to be a United Nations Security Council resolution that would impose a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict--through an expected U.N. Security Council resolution--it might learn from the Orange fiasco. It's easy, when you're living thousands of miles from the region, to move pieces across a chessboard. And as it should know from its own history, the surest route to peace and stability lies through negotiations, tough though they may be.
France and Orange might better expend their energy on encouraging Palestinians to go to the negotiating table rather than have them believe they can achieve their aims by having countries and companies do their heavy lifting.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the Executive Vice President at B'nai B'rith International, and has spent nearly all of his professional life working on behalf of Jewish organizations. As the organization's top executive officer, he directs and supervises B'nai B'rith programs, activities and staff in the more than 50 countries where B'nai B'rith is organized. He also serves as director of B'nai B'rith's Center for Human Rights and Public Policy (CHRPP). In that capacity, he presents B'nai B'rith's perspective to a variety of audiences, including Congress and the media, and coordinates the center's programs and policies on issues of concern to the Jewish community. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
Every few months, the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy hosts a Washington-area diplomat to speak about the pressing domestic and foreign policy issues of the day. The Diplomatic Encounter Series gives members, supporters and area professionals a chance to meet with high-ranking foreign and domestic officials and engage them in a conversation on topics of interest to B’nai B’rith.
Since 2002, ambassadors have shared their perspectives pertaining to bilateral relations with the State of Israel, the status of their respective Jewish communities, regional affairs and their role in international bodies such as the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the European Union.
Sienna Girgenti is the Assistant Director for the International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy at B'nai B'rith International. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
Charles O. Kaufman is a B'nai B'rith International senior vice president and resident of Austin, Texas. He shares updates on the work the organization is doing on the ground, to aid in recovery from the floods in central Texas. Read his account:
WIMBERLEY, Texas, May 31, 2015 -- The grind of chainsaws chewing through roots and limbs of unearthed century-old cedars and oaks is unmistakable. The sight of homes and other structures swept off their foundations is horrifying.
Law enforcement and others stand near blocked crossings where continued rain continues to make passage along certain main roads a risky adventure if not impossible. They direct locals and visiting relief workers, including those working on behalf B’nai B’rith and NECHAMA, to assigned worksites via unexpected, circuitous routes. The cleanup here is under way.
Homeowners offering endless thanks offer stories about being shaken in the middle of the night by a toppled dresser that was lifted off the floor by a sudden surge of water. Asked how high the water reached in a short time, one owner marks the height of the water to her neck. She tells of her family finding refuge by seeking high ground along Hill Country-sized mound at the back of the house.
The volunteers reach a stopping point in the late afternoon. B’nai B’rith also working with individuals in nearby San Marcos to
help find housing for the NECHAMA workers. Currently, the Jewish disaster relief team has found housing made available free
Ways You Can Help:
Adriana Camisar, is an attorney by training who holds a graduate degree in international law and diplomacy from The Fletcher School (Tufts University). She has been B'nai B'rith International Assistant Director for Latin American Affairs since late 2008, and Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs since 2013, when she relocated to Argentina, her native country. Prior to joining B'nai B'rith International, she worked as a research assistant to visiting Professor Luis Moreno Ocampo (former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court), at Harvard University; interned at the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs; worked at a children's rights organization in San Diego, CA; and worked briefly as a research assistant to the Secretary for Legal Affairs at the Organization of American States (OAS). To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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