Civil Service Commission looking into complaints against Keyes, Dermer
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Civil Service Commission looking into complaints against Keyes, Dermer

But commission’s disciplinary unit says it cannot formally open probe against PM’s spokesperson for actions taken before he took office

Raphael Ahren is the 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)

The Civil Service Commission on Sunday started looking into accusations against David Keyes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson for the international media, who last week went on leave amid a flurry of allegations of sexual misconduct.

The commission’s Department of Discipline is also investigating the role of Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who on Friday acknowledged that he was warned about Keyes’s alleged actions but failed to alert the relevant authorities.

At the same time, the Civil Service Commission will only be able to formally open a probe into Keyes’s alleged misdeeds if it receives firsthand testimony from someone complaining about something he did after he started working in the Prime Minister’s Office, commission spokesperson Arye Greenblatt told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

The Times of Israel on Thursday published the testimony of a woman in her 20s, a recent immigrant from North America, who accused Keyes of having made an “aggressive, sexual” advance weeks after he started working for Netanyahu.

“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,” the woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said of her June 2016 meeting with Keyes.

The commission noted that it could not sanction Keyes for offenses committed in the US, but said it was investigating one report of inappropriate advances while he was employed at the PMO, namely the woman mentioned in The Times of Israel report.

As of this writing, the Civil Service Commission has not been in touch with the woman.

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

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.

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.

On Friday, the New York Times reported that veteran US journalist Bret Stephens had contacted Dermer in November 2016 and warned him that Keyes “posed a risk to women in Israeli government offices.” 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. Keyes was appointed Netanyahu’s international spokesperson in March 2016.

“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.

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 on 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.

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, 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.'”

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.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spokesman David Keyes (YouTube screenshot)

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

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.”

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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