MK calls for sacking ambassador to US over failure to report Keyes

Karine Elharrar joins demands for disciplinary action against Ron Dermer, who didn’t convey sexual misconduct allegations against Netanyahu spokesman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, at the president's guest house, in Washington, DC, February 14, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/ GPO/ File)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, at the president's guest house, in Washington, DC, February 14, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/ GPO/ File)

Opposition MK Karine Elharrar on Sunday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to dismiss his ambassador to Washington for failing to report sexual misconduct allegations against one of Netanyahu’s top aides.

Elharrar, of the Yesh Atid party, told Netanyahu in a letter that Ron Dermer was legally obligated on pass on the warnings of inappropriate behavior about the prime minister’s foreign media adviser David Keyes.

“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.”

But she said that Dermer’s decision not to pass on the warnings of Keyes’s inappropriate behavior toward women to Netanyahu because the allegations were not criminal in nature was a “far more serious” offense.

Yesh Atid MK Karine Elharrar leads a State Control Committee meeting on March 08, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Friday, Dermer’s office acknowledged that following Keyes’s appointment to the Prime Minister’s Office, then-Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens warned the ambassador of Keyes’s alleged inappropriate behavior. The New York Times reported that Stephens had told Dermer in a November 2016 phone call that Keyes “posed a risk to women in Israeli government offices.”

“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.

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.

The Civil Service Commission on Sunday responded to Rozin’s complaint, announcing that an internal committee would look into the possibility of initiating disciplinary action against Dermer and 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. That report was published by The Times of Israel on Thursday. Soon after The Times of Israel sought Keyes’s response to that fresh allegation, he announced he was stepping aside as Netanyahu’s international media spokesman.

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 a Times of Israel report published last week, at least 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 contributed to this report.

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