MK asks Civil Service Commission to review Dermer handling of Keyes allegations

Michal Rozin says anti-sexual harassment laws apply to foreign service officials, and ambassador’s decision to ignore warning should be investigated

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)

Meretz MK Michal Rozin on Saturday asked the Civil Service Commission to review the allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign media spokesman David Keyes, as well as the US ambassador who decided not to report warnings of Keyes’s alleged inappropriate behavior to the prime minister.

“Recently, there have been testimonies from some 14 women who said that Keyes assaulted them sexually, some during his current job,” Rozin wrote in a letter to newly-appointed commissioner Daniel Hershkowitz.

Rozin noted US ambassador Ron Dermer has admitted that former Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens warned him about Keyes’s sexual misconduct, but that Dermer said he decided not to inform the prime minister because the allegations were not criminal in nature.

Rozin said that according to Israel’s Law for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment, however, employers must “take appropriate action” against harassment or any knowledge thereof.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

She said the 1998 law also applied to Israeli foreign service workers, necessitating a review of Dermer’s decision.

“In light of the grave concern over the serial behavior of a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office, and the turning a blind eye on this subject by several public servants, I request an immediate and comprehensive review into this ostensible sexual harassment affair,” Rozin said.

On Friday, Dermer’s office acknowledged that following Keyes’s appointment to Netanyahu’s office in 2016, Stephens warned the ambassador of Keyes’s alleged inappropriate behavior. The New York Times said that Stephens told Dermer in a November 2016 phone call that Keyes “posed a risk to women in Israeli government offices.”

Meretz MK Michal Rozin. (Alster/Flash90)

“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.

Stephens’ comments were reported a day after Keyes said he was “taking time off to clear my name.” That announcement followed an investigative report 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 alleged 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.

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.

In the wake of the growing number of allegations, a number of female lawmakers called on Netanyahu to suspend Keyes, and have condemned his silence on the matter.

Bret Stephens. (Jason Smith via JTA)

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.”

Rozin also slammed Netanyahu’s silence, saying it “sends a message of support” for sexual assault.

“The brave testimonies that were gathered paint a worrying picture of a pattern of harassment,” Rozin posted on Twitter on Thursday. “While the rest of the world advances and campaigns for zero tolerance to sexual violence, the prime minister… remains silent.”

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