ELKAN’S VIEW 10 June 2015
France has a long and inglorious record of anti-Jewish actions. Although there were good times, and considerable mediaeval Jewish scholarship came from France (Rashi was a Frenchman) the Jews always felt uncomfortable. Even when the country aspired to the highest ideals – Liberté, Egalité , Fraternité – the Jews always felt excluded from full participation. It was the treatment of Alfred Dreyfus by the French army in 1895 that inspired Theodore Herzl to convene the first Zionist Congress which half a century later led to the establishment of the State of Israel. The Dreyfus affair forms the subject of the new thriller “An Officer and a Spy” by Robert Harris.
The recent statement by the chief of the telecom company Orange, substantially owned by the French government, that he would wish to withdraw from Israel “tomorrow” is the latest statement of this attitude. Given at a press conference in Egypt (where else?) it produced a storm of protest in Israel. The French government have said that it is purely a commercial decision and bears no relationship to the fact that the French company has an arm’s length contract with an Israeli company called Partner which has the franchise in Israel to operate Orange. Obviously the Israeli Orange company also serves people – Jews and Arabs – living in the West Bank and therefore all of them must be tarred with the same anti-Semitic brush.
The economic boycott of Israel which used to be proposed and advanced by Western nations has long since faded into obscurity, to be succeeded by the BDS movement which is largely an initiative of the Western left. It nonetheless clearly has anti-Semitic aspects to it and the French were delighted to go along with the Orange’s Chief Executive. Orange is the new Yellow.
In the meantime Haim Ramon who owns Partner is left without an international name for his product. I used to use Orange in Israel but then changed to Cellcom on purely commercial grounds. If Partner relaunches its brand under a different name I will be tempted to go back to them, if only because France would no longer receive a proportion of the company’s profits.