Only 1 of dozen complaints relates to his time as PM aide

Civil Service Commission drops probe into Keyes’s alleged misconduct in Israel

After brief, ‘frustrating’ call, complainant told that behavior by PM’s spokesman may have been ‘inappropriate’ but was not a criminal or disciplinary offense

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

David Keyes, right, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on May 7, 2017. (AP/Oded Balilty, Pool)
David Keyes, right, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on May 7, 2017. (AP/Oded Balilty, Pool)

The Civil Service Commission has dropped its investigation into David Keyes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson for the international media, The Times of Israel has learned.

Keyes, who last week went on leave amid a series of allegations of sexual misconduct, may have acted improperly but his behavior did not constitute a criminal or disciplinary offense, the commission told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

At the same time, the commission is continuing to look into the role of Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who last week acknowledged that he was warned about Keyes’s alleged misconduct, but failed to alert the relevant authorities.

On Tuesday, eve of the Yom Kippur, a female representative of the commission’s Department of Discipline briefly interviewed a woman who had accused Keyes of having made an “aggressive, sexual” advance weeks after he started working for Netanyahu.

“It was a very frustrating call. I told her that he [Keyes] abused his position of power,” the woman, who asked to remain unnamed, told The Times of Israel, adding that the call lasted about five minutes.

“She said something along the lines of, ‘He’s not the first morally corrupt person in government and won’t be the last,'” she added.

The woman, a recent immigrant from North America in her 20s, is the only person so far who alleges improper behavior by Keyes after he had started working for Netanyahu. More than a dozen women have accused him of sexual misconduct in the years before he become the prime minister’s spokesperson in 2016 and was still living in New York.

The Civil Service Commission can only probe improper behavior if it occurred while the accused official was working for the state, spokesperson Arye Greenblatt said.

Greenblatt on Wednesday confirmed to The Times of Israel that the commission was no longer looking into the allegations into Keyes, as the testimony by the one woman who had complained about his behavior in Israel did not reveal any behavior by Keyes that would require further action.

“The woman agreed to give only her first name, and at the beginning of the conversation she made it clear that she was willing to speak only on condition that the contents of the conversation and her identity were not transferred to Keyes,” Greenblatt said. “The woman had no desire to file a complaint against Keyes.”

Greenblatt continued: “After describing her story, it was understood that the information she conveyed does not raise any suspicion of an offense on the part of Keyes, and that the incident had nothing to do with his work, and there was no work relations between the two at all.”

Therefore, he went on, the commission’s representative told the complainant that she thinks that the Department of Discipline would not deal with the matter any further.

“There was no talk of corruption,” Greenblatt said, referring to the complainant’s claim that she was told Keyes was not the “first morally corrupt person in government and won’t be the last.”

Rather, Greenblatt said, a statement was made saying that while Keyes’s conduct may have been inappropriate, “there is nothing in what she described that would reveal a criminal or disciplinary offense.”

David Keyes speaks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, July 23, 2018. (Gali Tibbon/Pool via AP)

Last week, The Times of Israel published in some detail the woman’s account of her June 2016 encounter with Keyes.

The woman said she and Keyes exchanged phone numbers after they first met in April 2016; Keyes had begun working for Netanyahu the previous month.

“There was a lot of very aggressive texting; he was always trying to see me and that type of stuff,” she recalled, adding that she never agreed to meet.

Two months later, she planned to go out with friends and mentioned to Keyes, via WhatsApp, where she would be. Keyes was already at the location before the woman and her friends arrived, she said.

Within minutes of her arrival, she needed to use the restroom and realized Keyes was following her, she said.

“I was a bit drunk and he basically 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,” she said.

“To me, the weirdest thing was that I was fairly drunk at this point, and he was very noticeably sober,” she went on. “And he came there knowing the state that I was in. And it was very aggressive. He got up and literally followed me. I remember looking behind me and being like, why is this man following me?”

The woman said that she would not necessarily call the incident sexual assault, but noted that, “it was very aggressive sexual behavior.”

She added: “He tried to grab me from behind, but I sort of pushed him away. There was no kissing, no touching, just very aggressive trying.”

Keyes, a native of Los Angeles, was appointed Netanyahu’s spokesperson in March 2016, something he made sure the woman was aware of, according to her account.

“The first time I met him he made it very clear exactly who he was, what he did,” she said. “He was always very proud of everything he accomplished.”

The commission’s Department of Discipline is a relatively large bureaucracy with an official tasked to deal solely with complaints of sexual misconduct.

Greenblatt, the commission’s spokesperson, on Thursday said there were no new developments regarding Dermer’s involvement in the case. On Monday, he had announced that the Department of Discipline was probing whether there were any “disciplinary aspects” to the ambassador’s behavior.

The New York Times last week reported that veteran US journalist Bret Stephens contacted Dermer in November 2016 and warned him that Keyes “posed a risk to women in Israeli government offices.”

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US, in Detroit, June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Dermer’s office acknowledged receiving Stephens’s message, but the ambassador decided not to pass it on to Netanyahu because the allegations were not criminal in nature.

“Information of the call was not conveyed to the PMO. If Stephens or anyone else had given the ambassador information on sexual assault or any other criminal act towards women perpetrated by anyone in the PMO — whether before or after that person was appointed — he would have notified the PMO immediately,” Dermer’s office said in a statement.

Last week, The Times of Israel published an exposé regarding Keyes, citing 12 women who described a pattern of inappropriate behavior toward themselves and other women, including at least two accounts of what could be considered sexual assault.

Since then, four additional women have contacted The Times of Israel to complain about their encounters with Keyes. To date, four of the women who have complained about Keyes’s behavior have been named.

Keyes has denied any wrongdoing.

It was not clear what information precisely Stephens had provided Dermer. In Israel, sexual harassment, not only assault, is considered a crime.

Opposition MK Karine Elharrar on Sunday called on Netanyahu to dismiss Dermer for failing to report the sexual misconduct allegations. Elharrar, of the Yesh Atid party, told Netanyahu in a letter that Dermer was legally obligated to pass on the warnings of inappropriate behavior about the prime minister’s foreign media adviser.

“This deafening silence sends a bad, problematic message to women everywhere,” she said. “It establishes that women’s bodies are worthless when it comes to the whims of a senior government official, and that it’s better for them to remain silent.”

Elharrar said the growing number of allegations against Keyes was “disturbing,” and pointed to a pattern of behavior of him “exploiting his position to satisfy his desires.”

Yesh Atid MK Karine Elharrar leads a State Control Committee meeting on March 08, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Echoing a complaint filed Saturday to the Civil Service Commission by Meretz MK Michal Rozin, Elharrar said that under Israel’s Law for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment, employers must “take appropriate action” against harassment or any knowledge thereof.

She said that even if Dermer did not believe the harassment allegations against Keyes constituted criminal offense, he was still obligated to report the claims according to the 1998 law.

“It is unreasonable that someone holding such a prominent position would violate the law so blatantly,” Elharrar said.

In response, the Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday that it “wasn’t clear exactly what [Dermer] was told based on media reports,” but his handling of the affair would be investigated internally, according to the Ynet news site.

Last week, Julia Salazar, a candidate for New York’s State Senate, accused Keyes of sexually assaulting her five years ago. Wall Street Journal reporter Shayndi Raice tweeted she too had a “terrible encounter” with Keyes before he became Netanyahu’s spokesman. She described him as a “predator” and someone who had “absolutely no conception of the word ‘no.'”

David Keyes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman for international media, and New York State Senate hopeful Julia Salazar. Salazar has accused Keyes of sexual assault, an allegation Keyes denies. (Courtesy, Mary Altaffer/AP)

In the Times of Israel report published last week, a dozen women detailed varying allegations.

Keyes, 34, denied the allegations, saying all “are deeply misleading and many of them are categorically false.” He later said that he was taking a leave of absence amid the uproar to try and clear his name.

In the wake of the allegations, a number of female lawmakers have condemned Netanyahu, who has yet to comment on the matter.

Last week, Rozin slammed Netanyahu’s silence in the wake of the allegations, saying it could be interpreted as tolerance of the alleged acts, and demanded he take a clear stance against sexual assault and harassment.

Rozin, who formerly headed Israel’s umbrella organization for victims of sexual valence, also said Keyes should be investigated because of the “serious concern of serial behavior.”

Also on Sunday, Na’amat, Israel’s largest movement for women’s rights, wrote a letter to Foreign Minister Director-General Yuval Rotem, asking him to hold “urgent deliberations” about how to proceed in cases when diplomats are informed about suspicions of sexual misconduct of other civil servants.

“We consider this very grave conduct,” the group’s head, Galia Wolloch, wrote regarding Dermer’s decision not to inform Netanyahu about Keyes’s alleged inappropriate behavior.

Any senior official would have immediately alerted the relevant authorities regarding possible offenses that would threaten national security, she said. “Is the safety of women not worthy of protection?” she asked.

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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