Netanyahu confidant was warned about Keyes‘ sexual misconduct

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was warned about allegations of sexual misconduct carried out by Netanyahu‘s spokesman David Keyes as early as 2016, The New York Times revealed on Thursday.

According to the report, allegations against Keyes, which he has denied, started circulating from early on in his position as Netanyahu‘s spokesperson to the foreign media, but the victims of his alleged actions stayed anonymous. Over the past week, a pattern of behavior by Keyes has emerged, including wildly inappropriate workplace behavior, persistent harassment and at least three allegations of assault.

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On Thursday, Keyes announced he was taking a leave of absence from his job "in light of the false and misleading accusations against me and in order not to distract from the important work of the prime minister." He added that he was "fully confident that the truth will come out."

On Friday, an additional woman, who asked to remain anonymous, spoke to The Jerusalem Post about a consensual but disturbing encounter she had with Keyes in New York in 2011.

The woman, at the time an American graduate student looking for a job in Israel, ed Keyes to discuss potential professional connections. He invited her to his apartment to meet and talk about work-related issues.

"As soon as he laid eyes on me, it‘s like something in his eyes said ‘this is not a work thing anymore.‘ He was coming on to me so strong." The woman said Keyes removed his shirt not long after she arrived, and the two ended up having consensual physical .

"I didn‘t feel in danger in any way," she said. But she said she later felt that the incident was bizarre and inappropriate.

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The Thursday report in The New York Times revealed a series of incidents in which Keyes was reprimanded for his workplace behavior.

According to The New York Times, in 2016 Bret Stephens, the former editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post and a current New York Times columnist, told Dermer that Keyes posed a risk to Israeli women employed in government offices.

In 2013, while Stephens was the deputy opinion editor at the Wall Street Journal, Keyes was barred from the newspaper‘s offices after repeated advances on young women who worked there.

Keyes announced a leave of absence on Thursday, the same day that three female MKs called on Netanyahu to take action against him. The Prime Minister‘s Office has not publicly commented on the incident.

On Thursday evening, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel told a Reshet 13 news program that "Netanyahu will carefully examine the situation and make his own decision." She added that she is careful not to take a stand before all the facts are clear.

The series of allegations against Keyes were only widely publicized beginning on Tuesday, when Julia Salazar, a controversial candidate for the New York State Senate,  publicly accused him of sexual assault in a tweet.

Writing on Twitter, Salazar said she was going to be “outed as a survivor of sexual assault” in an upcoming article and decided to preempt the disclosure. "Before this runs, I want to come forward and confirm that I was a victim of sexual assault by David Keyes – the prime minister of Israel‘s spokesperson to foreign media. 

Salazar later told Jezebel that she encountered Keyes in 2013 when they met for coffee. She later went up to his apartment, where he held her down and forced her to perform oral sex, Salazar alleged.

Within hours of her tweet, Wall Street Journal reporter Shayndi Raice said she believed Salazar‘s account and also had a "terrible encounter" with Keyes. "No matter how often I said no, he would not stop pushing himself on me," she said. "I knew as I walked away I had encountered a predator."

Further reporting by the Times of Israel and Israel‘s Channel Ten revealed that up to a dozen women have claimed unwanted and inappropriate behavior by Keyes. 

The New York Times report on Thursday added that Keyes‘s behavior was well known at several other offices. In 2014, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies imposed a new policy against visitors roaming the offices freely after complaints against Keyes. And at his own organization, Advancing Human Rights, Keyes was kept away from interns after harassing behavior.

The Times also recounted an alleged assault by Keyes on another Wall Street Journal employee, who recalled him "pushing her down on his bed and ripping her tights."

In addition, Brooklyn-based human rights activist Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown stated that Keyes “was insistent that I come over to his apartment,” and when she did, “He assaulted me. It was the most aggressive situation I’ve ever experienced.”

“He made it extremely difficult to leave by grabbing me toward him forcefully,” she said as quoted by the Times.

Keyes has served as the spokesman for foreign media on behalf of Netanyahu since March 2016. The vast majority of the allegations stem from before Keyes‘s employment by the Prime Minister‘s Office.

But on Thursday evening,the Times of Israel reported that Keyes made an “aggressive, sexual” advance at a woman in Israel weeks after he took the job. The unnamed woman said he "followed me into the bathroom and pushed me up against the wall and tried to come on to me. I had to push him off and ran away."

Uri Bollag and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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