After only seven months on the job, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson for international media, Evan Gary Cohen, has quit, The Times of Israel has learned.
Cohen, who was born in South Africa and moved to Israel at age 9, officially left the Prime Minister’s Office on March 1, and will to return to his former full-time position as a tenured linguistics professor at Tel Aviv University.
“It was a great privilege to work with the prime minister over the past months,” he told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “I crossed paths with amazing people, both professionally and otherwise, and got to serve the prime minister during historic times.”
He declined to comment on the reasons for his departure from Netanyahu’s office.
Cohen, 51, came to work with Netanyahu in July 2019, but continued teaching at Tel Aviv University, where his research focuses on phonology, phonetics and heritage linguistics.
Before entering the PMO, the Ramat Gan resident was an active gay rights activist. He is the founding chairman of Likud Pride, the party’s caucus for LGBTQ rights, a fact Netanyahu noted in a tweet announcing his appointment.
“Evan is a talented man and he founded the pride caucus in Likud. We have great missions ahead of us for Israel’s public diplomacy,” the prime minister wrote at the time.
In 2018, Cohen spoke out publicly against the government’s decision not to include same-sex couples in a new surrogacy law, calling it “shameful.”
מיניתי את ד״ר אוון כהן לתפקיד היועץ לתקשורת הבינלאומית. אוון איש מוכשר והוא ייסד את התא הגאה בליכוד. משימות גדולות בפנינו למען ההסברה הישראלית. בהצלחה! pic.twitter.com/nQRaXvMDCQ
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) July 14, 2019
Cohen was not known to have any prior experience in public diplomacy.
Cohen succeeded Los Angeles native David Keyes, who stepped down as Netanyahu’s foreign media spokesperson in September 2018, after The Times of Israel published an investigative report regarding a dozen women who accused him of sexual misconduct. The anonymous allegations ranged from sexual assault to overly aggressive and otherwise inappropriate behavior when Keyes was still living in New York.
Keyes, who worked for human rights organizations and was known for “punking” Iranian officials before he was hired by the Prime Minister’s Office in March 2016, denied any wrongdoing, but the reports quickly made waves in local and international media, prompting other women to come forward with additional complaints.
After a Times of Israel followup article cited a woman alleging an “aggressive, sexual” advance by Keyes after he had already moved to Jerusalem and started working for Netanyahu, Keyes declared that he wanted to “take time off” to clear his name.
On December 12, 2018, the PMO announced that Keyes was formally leaving his position.