BDS Victory: French telecommunications giant Orange aims to end its ties with Israel’s second-largest mobile company Partner Communications.
The move, which will be enforced in February, brings an end to a licensing agreement that the BDS movement claimed was a direct result of their campaigning.
According to a Newsweek magazine report, the BDS movement alleges that Partner provided telecoms and fee waivers to Israeli soldiers during 2014’s 50-day Gaza conflict.
Partner owns the license to use Orange’s brand name for its products in Israel.
The company provides its services to illegal Israeli settlements in occupied east Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank.
For the European Union, Israel’s occupation of these areas is not recognized as well as their settlements, which are illegal under international law.
Members of the BDS movement’s leadership say the deal’s conclusion was the result of a six-year grassroots campaign by unions and pressure groups in France, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
One of the key turning points in the campaign, BDS says, was when the movement’s Egyptian arm called for a boycott against Orange’s subsidiary in the country, Mobinil, which had 33.7 million subscribers as of December 2014.
“This news is a significant success for the BDS movement and shows that international companies and investors are waking up to the fact that being linked to Israel’s regime of colonization, occupation and apartheid is bad for business,” said Guman Mussa, the Arab World campaigns officer for the coordinating body of the movement, the Palestinian BDS National Committee.
In a statement, Orange has denied that it was acting in response to the boycott and has said it was ending the relationship with Partner purely for commercial reasons.
According to Haaretz, Partner stands to receive $54.3 million in compensation for agreeing to release Orange from the brand agreement.
The company has marketed its products in Israel under the Orange name since it was founded in 1998 and must now embark on a rebranding process.
In France, the trade unions Solidaires and the Orange Sud PTT Federation, which represents Orange workers, have welcomed the end of Orange’s relationship with Partner.
FIDH, The International Federation for Human Rights, which co-authored the report into Orange’s complicity in Israel’s crimes, called the end of Orange’s deal with Partner “a victory for all defenders of international law and human rights.”
However, Orange said in a statement that it would continue to invest in Israel through other avenues:
“Orange acknowledges Partner’s decision to terminate the brand license agreement and re-brand its activities. As previously announced, Orange will be able to use its brand for its continuing investments in technological innovation in Israel.”
Two other major foreign companyes withdraw their business in Israel: the French multinational Veolia pulled out of its Israel operations which included operating a tram service to illegal settlements and Ireland’s largest multinational corporation, CRH, confirmed that the global cement giant has divested from its 25% stake in the Israeli cement market.
A leaked Israeli government report estimates that BDS could cost Israel’s economy $1.4bn a year, while a study by the Rand Corporation states that BDS could cost Israel between 1 and 2 per cent annually over 10 years.
Israeli officials view the growing BDS movement as a major “strategic threat” to its apartheid settler colonial regime – so much so that it has created a ministry to fight the campaign, and poured millions of dollars into its propaganda and sabotage efforts.