Israeli ambassador acknowledges he was warned about Keyes, but did not tell PM

Ron Dermer claims he did not pass on info provided by US journalist regarding Netanyahu spokesman’s behavior towards women as it did not constitute a criminal act

Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States, speaks at the Economic Club of Detroit in Detroit, Michigan, on June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the United States, speaks at the Economic Club of Detroit in Detroit, Michigan, on June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Israel’s Ambassador in the US Ron Dermer acknowledged Friday evening that he was warned about the behavior of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson David Keyes towards women, but said he did not pass the information on to Netanyahu, asserting the alleged actions were not of a criminal nature.

Bret Stephens, then of the Wall Street Journal, said he contacted Dermer on November 2, 2016, after a conversation with an Israeli reporter, to tell him that “Mr. Keyes posed a risk to women in Israeli government offices,” The New York Times reported on Thursday. Keyes was announced as Netanyahu’s pick for international spokesperson in March 2016.

“The ambassador received a phone call from Bret Stephens more than six months after David Keyes assumed his post in the Prime Minister’s Office, regarding behavior attributed to Keyes before he joined the office,” Dermer’s office said in a statement.

“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.”

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

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

Stephens’ comments were reported a day after Keyes said he was “taking time off to clear my name.” That announcement followed an investigative report Wednesday by The Times of Israel detailing accusations of sexual assault and misconduct by 12 women. Two other women stepped forward on Thursday with additional allegations, including one incident that took place soon after Keyes was hired by Netanyahu. More than a dozen women had come forward as of Friday to complain about Keyes’ behavior; four of them have now been named.

Bret Stephens. (Jason Smith via JTA)

Stephens, who now works for The New York Times and previously was editor-in-chief at The Jerusalem Post, also said that in 2013, Keyes was barred from the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal after employees said “he propositioned several women there.”

Employees of the Journal, including some of the four who said he propositioned them, told The New York Times that Keyes’s behavior led to his ban from the office “to insulate them from his advances.”

Stephens said he rebuked Keyes for his behavior at the time, calling him a “disgrace to men” and “a disgrace as a Jew.”

The New York Times said Keyes sent email messages to several Journal employees, including an intern named Kate Havard, apologizing “for being less than gentlemanly.” According to the report, Keyes, “in late-night text messages, dangled the possibility of having her work for him and asked her to come to his apartment then to discuss it.” When Havard declined, “the texts show, Mr. Keyes said he would have to find someone else for the assignment.”

Another former Journal writer said that Mr. Keyes had attacked her, pushing her down on his bed and ripping her tights, after luring her to his apartment in November 2012. “He started trying to take off his clothes, while trying to keep me on the bed with one arm,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity because she is looking for work and fears that being identified as a victim could harm her prospects.

The New York Times also reported the account of Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, another alleged victim.

In the incident, Keyes was “insistent” she come to his apartment, she said.

“That was a stupid move,” Brown said. “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 added.

Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir, in a Twitter post on Friday, accused Netanyahu of turning a blind eye to sexual crimes by his employees.

“Was Netanyahu unaware of this, too?” she said, following the report on the Dermer warning. “Another case and another case. In the entire world, sexual harassment is dealt with severely and harassers end their careers shamefaced. But per usual, when it’s in Netanyahu’s office, for Netanyahu, anything goes.”

In 2014, Keyes was reportedly also barred from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, according to workers, after making advances at two female employees. Following complaints, the Washington conservative policy group restricted visitors to the offices.

The foundation told the Times that it had “put in place strict policies and best practices that reflect zero tolerance for harassment or any form of inappropriate behavior.”

The Times also reported that Keyes made “lewd comments” to women at his own Advancing Human Rights organization, and some interns quit after he repeatedly asked them out on dates. The organization instituted a policy whereby the interns reported to a female manager instead of Keyes.

Supporters of Julia Salazar (center, in white) back the New York State Senate candidate at a news conference in Brooklyn, New York, on August 6, 2018. (Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

One of the original women who accused Keyes, New York State Senate candidate Julia Salazar, on Tuesday detailed her alleged 2013 sexual assault by Keyes in an interview with the Jezebel website.

After that, Wall Street Journal reporter Shayndi Raice, responding to Salazar’s allegation, described an “uncomfortable” encounter with Keyes, whom she called a predator. Another woman detailed to The Times of Israel an accusation of physically aggressive behavior by Keyes and said she needed to use physical force to extract herself from his attempts to engage sexually with her.

One of the two women who contacted The Times of Israel since Wednesday’s piece was published, a recent immigrant, described an incident that took place in Israel two years ago, when Keyes was working for Netanyahu.

David Keyes, at far end of table, attending a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, second right, and Mike Pence, left, in Jerusalem on January 22, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Previous allegations had concerned Keyes during the period he lived in New York before he came to Israel to work as Netanyahu’s spokesman.

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.”

In response to the various allegations, Keyes told The Times of Israel on Wednesday: “All of the accusations are deeply misleading and many of them are categorically false.”

On Thursday afternoon, Keyes announced he would be taking time off from his job to fend off the various allegations of sexual misconduct.

“In light of the false and misleading accusations against me and in order not to distract from the important work of the Prime Minister, I have asked to take time off to clear my name,” he said in a statement sent to reporters. “I am fully confident that the truth will come out.”

Minutes later, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a separate statement saying that it had “accepted David Keyes’ request to take time off.”

It was not immediately clear how long his absence would last, or whether it was open-ended.

Keyes had been rumored to be the leading candidate to succeed Danny Danon in the role of Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

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