ToI investigates

Keyes accused of making ‘aggressive’ sexual advance while serving as PM’s aide

Netanyahu spokesman’s announcement of ‘time off’ comes hours after The Times of Israel sought his response to new complaint by North American immigrant to Israel

Raphael Ahren is the 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)

David Keyes made an “aggressive, sexual” advance at a woman in Israel weeks after he became Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson for the international media, the woman, an immigrant from North America, told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

Shortly after The Times of Israel sought Keyes’s response to this latest allegation, he announced that he was taking “time off to clear my name.”

Since ToI on Wednesday published an investigation citing 12 women who described a pattern of inappropriate behavior toward themselves and other women, two additional women contacted ToI with complaints about him. Both asked to remain unnamed.

One of the original 12, 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 of the 12 detailed 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 have concerned Keyes during the period he lived in New York before he came to Israel to work as Netanyahu’s spokesman.

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 in a telephone interview Thursday, adding that she never agreed to meet.

Two months later, in June 2016, she planned to go out with friends and mentioned to Keyes, via Whatsapp, where she would be. Keyes was already at the specific location before the woman and her friends arrived, she said.

The woman, who is in her 20s, asked that the location of the alleged incident not be disclosed for fear it may reveal her identity.

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.

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)

“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.”

After she pushed him away, Keyes left, and in subsequent text messages, sent days later, acted as if nothing had happened, she said.

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.”

‘He… put a LOT of pressure on me repeatedly’

The 14th woman, who contacted The Times of Israel on Thursday, said she also had “very negative experiences with David Keyes that have made me very uncomfortable.”

These experiences took place while Keyes, whom she had been working with, was living in the US, before he was appointed as Netanyahu’s spokesperson.

She showed The Times of Israel a series of text messages between her and Keyes, noting it was “just one example of many other messages and things he’s said to me.”

On one afternoon in March 2013, Keyes asked her to come see him in his Washington, DC, hotel room. She replied: “Ha I’m not coming to your hotel.” Keyes wrote back: “Too bad. Wanted to see you.” She apologized, but Keyes insisted: “Come for a bit. Why not.”

At the time of the alleged incident, Keyes was the head of Advancing Human Rights, a New York-based advocacy group.

“He never physically forced himself on me but put a LOT of pressure on me repeatedly,” the woman, a former staffer at the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby, told The Times of Israel. “We knew each other in a professional context, so this was especially uncomfortable.”

Keyes did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

The Prime Minister’s Office also did not reply to several requests for comment regarding the various allegations against Keyes. A terse message Thursday noted it had accepted Keyes’ request for time off.

The new testimonies bring the number of women The Times of Israel has been in contact with regarding Keyes to 14.

Besides Salazar and Raice, the other 10 women who have also been in contact with The Times of Israel in recent months have made various allegations that include one detailed accusation of physically aggressive behavior by Keyes, claims of overly aggressive advances by him, and incidents of inappropriate behavior.

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.”

Also on Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 10 reported that two female employees at the Washington, DC, think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies have complained to their superiors about Keyes having “harassed” them in 2013.

In response to the reports in The Times of Israel and Channel 10, four lawmakers on Thursday urged Netanyahu to suspend Keyes.

“I think Prime Minister Netanyahu must intervene,” tweeted Merav Ben-Ari, of the coalition Kulanu party. “It makes no sense that a senior adviser harasses [women] — you could even say that he obsesses about many women — while he continues to work as if it were nothing.

MK Merav Ben Ari attends a Labor committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 6, 2017. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“If I would have an adviser like that (God forbid), I would have put him on leave without pay first thing in the morning until all the facts had been clarified,” she added.

Opposition lawmaker Michal Rozin (Meretz) said that Keyes’s alleged actions should be condemned by Netanyahu.

“Keyes doesn’t only represent the prime minister to the world but also the country. Silence sends a message of support,” she wrote on Twitter.

“I call on the prime minister to suspend Keyes from his position and to clarify the facts. The brave testimonies that were gathered paint a worrying picture of a pattern of harassment,” she added. “While the rest of the world advances and campaigns for zero tolerance to sexual violence, the prime minister… remains silent.”

Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie likewise said called on Netanyahu to suspend Keyes, at least until the reports on his alleged misconduct have been clarified.

“The silence from the Prime Minister’s Office is very infuriating, and may be interpreted as acceptance of [Keyes’] deeds,” she said in a statement.

Ksenia Svetlova, a lawmaker from the Zionist Union, recalled previous sex-related affairs involving the PMO, saying that the “message that his silence conveys is that woman are an object for sexual gratification. The prime minister needs to act immediately in the appropriate manner.”

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 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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