Civil Service Commission drops probe of Netanyahu spokesman David Keyes

Body also ends examination of Ambassador Ron Dermer, who did not pass on information about alleged sexual misconduct

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

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)
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)

Israel’s Civil Service Commission this week formally closed its probes into alleged misbehavior by David Keyes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s international media spokesman, and Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.

In a letter to the PMO, the head of the commission’s Department of Discipline, Guy David, wrote that no wrongdoing was found on the part of either Keyes or Dermer that would require further disciplinary action.

Keyes took an open-ended leave of absence in September, due to multiple accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior.

Dermer had received information from journalist Bret Stephens about Keyes’s alleged misbehavior, but did not convey the warning to the Prime Minister’s Office.

In his letter this week, David noted that most of the complaints against Keyes related to the period before he started working for Netanyahu, and cited a 1963 law that states that disciplinary measures can only be taken against civil servants for deeds committed while they were working for the state.

The letter does make reference to The Times of Israel’s September 13 report about one complainant who accused Keyes of having made an “aggressive, sexual” advance weeks after he started working in the Prime Minister’s Office.

David Keyes (Courtesy)

“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 told The Times of Israel at the time, asking to remain anonymous.

“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.”

Following the report on her complaint, an employee of the Civil Service Commission contacted and conducted a brief interview with the woman, a new immigrant from North America, after which the commission decided to dismiss her testimony for various reasons.

“This incident, according to her description, occurred outside of and unrelated to Keyes’s work, and does not amount to sexual harassment,” David wrote in his November 27 letter to the PMO.

Since the incident was not work-related and does not constitute sexual harassment, and the woman’s identity is unknown, “there is no room to open a disciplinary investigation against Keyes,” he went on.

The woman, whose identity is known to The Times of Israel, refused to state her full name in her conversation with the commission.

In the absence of any proof of sexual assault, the commission has therefore closed the case, David noted, adding, however, that this decision was merely based on legal criteria. The commission’s conclusions say nothing about the veracity of the complaints or the question of Keyes’s suitability for his position, which is at the discretion of the PMO, he concluded.

Bret Stephens. (Jason Smith via JTA)

Regarding Dermer, David wrote that the commission asked the Foreign Ministry’s Orna Sagiv to look into matter. Sagiv asked the US envoy why he did not report Stephens’s warning, to which he replied that he remembers speaking to the journalist in late 2016, but that he does not recall him making specific claims that would warrant reporting.

Stephens’s call came seven months after Keyes started working at the PMO and its content was similar to claims that had already been reported, Dermer told Sagiv.

“Under these circumstances, it appears that Dermer’s argumentation that he did not see anything new in Stephens’ warning can be accepted,” David wrote.

Stephens contacted Dermer in November 2016, telling him that Keyes “posed a risk to women in Israeli government offices,” The New York Times reported in September. 

Last week, Hadashot TV news first reported that the Civil Service Commission has dropped its probe into Keyes and Ron Dermer. According to the report, Keyes would formally quit his position as Netanyahu’s spokesperson in exchange for the case being closed.

The PMO on Thursday did not reply to a Times of Israel query as to whether Keyes was still working for Netanyahu.

On September 12, 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 more 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.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, speaks at an event in Detroit, Monday, June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

After the publication of the exposé, the Los Angeles native said all the allegations “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 to clear his name.

In his only public statement on the matter, Netanyahu told reporters on September 26: “I’m sure Ambassador Dermer acted entirely properly and appropriately.” He noted that “the matter is currently being probed by the Civil Service Commission, and we will let the investigation take its course.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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