A Keyes lesson

Over the previous week, a growing scandal has rocked the Prime Minister’s Office, as Benjamin Netanyahu’s English language spokesman David Keyes took a leave of absence after allegations of sexual misconduct by New York State Senate candidate Julia Salazar and several other women.

On Friday, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer confirmed that he was warned about Keyes’ behavior and did not pass on the concerns. Increasing numbers of Knesset members have stepped forward to demand answers and an investigation into the incident.

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The question now is why didn’t years of stories about Keyes, often percolating around powerful and well-connected political and journalistic social circles, stop the harassment earlier? When the first anonymous implicating Facebook post was put up in April 2016, major media accepted the quick denial from an official speaking for Keyes. It turns out that Bret Stephens, then at The Wall Street Journal, had ed Dermer that November, warning him that “Mr. Keyes posed a risk to women in Israeli government offices,” according to report.

Numerous journalists were already investigating these claims. Harry Siegel at The Daily Beast tweeted that he was “tipped to this info and didn’t report it,” and his brother Jacob Siegel at Tablet wrote that “Tablet was one of several news outlets and journalists to receive an email connecting Salazar to the Facebook post.” Tablet began an investigation, as did the Times of Israel and The New York Times, which reached out to Salazar in 2017.

In addition to several news organizations working on stories about Keyes over the years, and the attempt by Stephens to warn Dermer, there were also numerous influential organizations that had already become aware of his behavior. According to reports, “complaints from two women led to Keyes being barred from events” by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. At the Journal four women said he propositioned them and it led to “his ban from the office.” According to the Times, he made “lewd comments” to women at Advancing Human Rights, the international NGO which he co-founded, and he was stopped from working with interns at his own organization.

The pattern of sexual harassment that has come to light in the wake of the Me Too movement shows how a tendency towards silence leads to organizations passing the buck on harassment, quietly barring men from certain offices while not reporting their behavior. The excuse is that the behavior is not criminal, so there is no paper trail.

This recent scandal was entirely preventable. Not only did people warn each other, but the case was known as an “open secret” among networks of journalists and think tanks in the US and Israel. Instead of the warnings impeding the progress of a rising star like Keyes, they seem to have just been ignored, everyone letting it be “someone else’s problem.”

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This is distressing. When men who harass are allowed to continue their behavior without censure and the solution is simply to quietly ban them from certain areas in the office or meetings with the staff, the message is that women are still not equal. Banning a man from being around female colleagues doesn’t stop harassment, but rather allows it to continue and means that women will feel alienated from workplaces where these men end up.

The culture of silence also rewards alleged predators, allowing them to seek greener pastures, while men and women who behave responsibly are told to be quiet and not speak out, lest careers be ruined or an unwanted “scandal” erupts. In 2018, many organizations are still more concerned with their name being mentioned in a scandal than in addressing harassment immediately and making the problem known to future employers. And journalists do no favors by keeping quiet.

Every organization needs to pioneer better ways of addressing harassment and providing avenues for people to speak out, rather than preferring silence as a method to pass the buck. The culture of silence that allows alleged serial sexual harassers to move from one office to another without censure must end.

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