The Orange affair highlights France’s two faces

Still remembered is De Gaulle’s characterization of the Jewish people in 1967 as ‘un people d’elite, sur de lui-meme, et dominateur’ (an elitist nation, sure of itself, and dominating.)

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

In Cairo last week, Stephane Richard, CEO of the French telecom company Orange, announced that he would like nothing better than to cut off relations with Partner, the Israeli company using the Orange label. “We want to be one of the trustful partners of all the Arab countries”, he said.

Back in Paris two days later, Richard said: “I love Israel… I have a number of Jewish friends who are descendants of Holocaust survivors.”

So which is it? Money trumps love of Israel? And if he intended to abrogate Orange’s contract with Partner why did he not enter into negotiations with Partner, rather than making an announcement in Cairo? When it comes to exploiting Israeli technology, Orange doesn’t mind tapping into Israeli know-how by operating a start-up incubator and a development laboratory in Israel.

France has presented two faces to the Jewish people over the years. In 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen led to the emancipation of European Jewry. In 1940, after France’s shameful surrender to Germany, the Vichy government hunted down the Jews of France and sent them off to Auschwitz. In 1948, non-Jewish French volunteers came to fight in Israel‘s War of Independence and the French government supplied the arms for the Altalena, which left Port de Bouc for Israel in June.

The alliance between France and Israel in the Fifties and Sixties, when France was the major supplier of aircraft to Israel, was followed by the stab in the back on the eve of the Six-Day War, when France embargoed Israel and suspended the delivery of aircraft and spare parts. Still remembered is De Gaulle’s characterization of the Jewish people in November 1967 – “un people d’elite, sur de lui-meme, et dominateur” (an elitist nation, sure of itself, and dominating.)

These days, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is leading the charge against Israel at the United Nations. Which is the real face of France?

The decision by M. Richard to sever Orange’s relations with Partner may give a boost to Partner’s competitors in Israel, but will have no effect on the Israeli economy. The Orange imbroglio has, however, aroused a debate in Israel on the campaign by Israel’s enemies to strangle it by economic means. They failed in their numerous attempts to defeat the Israel Defense Forces on the battlefield. They have had occasional successes in the use of terror weapons against Israel’s civilian population, but they know that that too is a war they cannot win.

As long ago as December 1945, the Arab League declared a boycott against the Jewish community in Palestine. “Jewish products and manufactured goods shall be considered undesirable in the Arab countries,” they decided. This boycott was extended to Israel upon its establishment. For a while, it looked like it might turn out to be an effective weapon, considering the oil wealth in the Arab World. But its effect was transitory.

Recently, the Palestinians have decided to resort to the economic weapon in their war against Israel. So now it’s BDS – boycott, economic sanctions, and divestment of investments in Israel. It is a drive, initiated by Palestinian organizations, that attempts to reach countries around the globe, mobilizing enemies of Israel and anti-Semites wherever they can be found.

It has had no perceptible effect on the Israeli economy, which overcame the world’s economic crisis far better than France and the other countries of Western Europe. Led by its advanced technology sector, Israel’s GDP is growing year-by-year and has reached $300 dollars. The largest technology companies in the world are eager to tap into Israeli know-how. Foreign investments in Israel are growing. It looks like BDS is going to be another failed attempt to fight Israel. It will probably not do the Palestinians any good either.

The fact that BDS has grabbed the headlines in Israel these last few days has given it a great deal of publicity. It is not warranted by the facts.

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