Not just Salazar: 12 women cite pattern of improper behavior by PM’s aide Keyes
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ToI investigatesIn 2nd alleged incident 'he kept going even after I said no'

Not just Salazar: 12 women cite pattern of improper behavior by PM’s aide Keyes

As well as NY State Senate hopeful, 2nd woman, insisting on anonymity, alleges physical aggression; others say Keyes was kept away from female interns; he denies claims

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman David Keyes (Facebook)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman David Keyes (Facebook)

A total of 12 women have accused David Keyes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson to the foreign media, of inappropriate behavior toward them and other women.

One of the 12, New York State Senate candidate Julia Salazar, on Tuesday detailed her alleged 2013 sexual assault by Keyes. After that, Wall Street Journal reporter Shayndi Raice, responding to Salazar’s allegation, described an “uncomfortable” encounter with Keyes, whom she called a predator.

Ten other women have also been in contact with The Times of Israel in recent months, with allegations that include one detailed accusation of physically aggressive behavior by Keyes, claims of overly aggressive advances by him, and incidents of inappropriate behavior. The women spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Several sources, furthermore, have said that Keyes’s alleged improper behavior toward women, which took place before he was appointed Netanyahu’s spokesman in 2016, was so well-known that he was asked to stay away from certain offices that he used to frequent in New York.

Keyes was first accused of sexual assault by Salazar in April 2016, in a private Facebook post that was subsequently deleted, but that Salazar has now acknowledged posting.

The Times of Israel has been in contact with 12 women — Salazar, Raice and 10 others who have asked not to be named — all of whom reported, mostly independently of one another, unpleasant encounters with Keyes, and with several men who corroborated some of their accounts. Only Salazar and Raice, who came forward in their own names this week, have agreed to be identified. The Times of Israel has been investigating allegations against Keyes since the first accusation was published in 2016, but had been wary of publishing further allegations based solely on anonymous testimony.

The Times of Israel has also obtained two emails Keyes sent to women in which he apologized “for being less than gentlemanly.”

On Tuesday, controversial New York State Senate hopeful Salazar claimed on Twitter to have been a “victim of sexual assault by David Keyes.” Salazar said she decided to speak out this week because the Daily Caller website was about to publish an article outing her as the source of the 2016 accusation.

Besides Salazar, one other woman who spoke to The Times of Israel accused Keyes of “physically aggressive” behavior that could be considered sexual assault. According to this woman’s account, he kissed her against her will and tried to undress her, and she had to use force to extricate herself from his embrace.

The other women described encounters they found either aggressive, offensive, overly flirtatious or otherwise inappropriate.

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

In 2016, when Salazar detailed Keyes’s alleged sexual assault against her in a private Facebook post, that post made its way to the Israeli press (including The Times of Israel), which reported it without naming her. Some journalists knew she was behind the accusation but respected her wish not to be named.

The Prime Minister’s Office at the time denied the charges on Keyes’s behalf, with sources telling reporters about Salazar’s past engagement with leftist groups in an apparent effort to diminish her credibility.

Replying to Salazar’s tweet on Tuesday, Wall Street Journal reporter Raice said she fully trusted Salazar’s account since she herself had had an “uncomfortable” encounter with Keyes. “I also had a terrible encounter with David Keyes once and 100% believe her. I knew this would come out about him at some point,” Raice wrote.

“The man had absolutely no conception of the word ‘no.’ No matter how often I said no, he would not stop pushing himself on me,” Raice charged. “I was able to extricate myself quickly and it was a very brief and uncomfortable moment but I knew as I walked away I had encountered a predator.”

Raice, who hails from New York but is currently based in Chicago, went on to note that she later discovered that Keyes’s “mistreatment of women was an open secret.”

Reached by The Times of Israel on Wednesday, Raice said she had decided not to comment on the matter beyond her tweets.

In May 2016, soon after her private Facebook allegations against Keyes were published, Salazar told The Times of Israel in greater detail about the alleged incident with Keyes three years earlier, alleging he had coerced her into performing oral sex. She insisted on maintaining her anonymity, and said she was extremely concerned that she might be identified from the details that had already been published. She subsequently indicated that she might be prepared to be named at a future stage.

Currently running for political office, Salazar has been accused of lying about her personal history and of having misrepresented her academic record. She denies lying, saying she “inadvertently misrepresented” some aspects of her past.

In this August 15, 2018, photo, Democratic New York State Senate candidate Julia Salazar smiles as she speaks to a supporter before a rally in McCarren Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

‘He kept trying, he kept going even after I said no’

The second woman who alleges physically aggressive behavior by Keyes said she needed to use physical force to extract herself from his attempts to engage sexually with her after he invited her to his New York apartment in late 2012.

The two had met at a dinner party. “He said something to the effect that he didn’t drink but loved to get women drunk,” she recalled.

She went to the bathroom there and as she exited the door, Keyes “cornered” her and pressed himself against her, according to her account.

At the time, the then-29-year-old woman was single and felt attracted to Keyes, a successful and smart young man originally from California. “I am embarrassed to say, but I thought that a man behaving that way, so aggressively — it was flattering. I pushed him away and went back to the table.”

Later that night, Keyes invited her to his apartment, promising her a private piano recital of music by the famed composer Frédéric Chopin, she recounted.

“I stood in the doorway of his bedroom and he grabbed me by the arm, pulled me to the bed and started kissing me,” she said. “I kissed him back at first, and then I pushed him away, and said, what’s going on, I thought you’d play me Chopin? He said, ‘Well, I can put on a CD if you want.’ He kept trying to kiss me and touch me and take off my clothes. He was at this point very physically aggressive.”

Despite her attraction to Keyes, she felt things were “going too far and too fast,” she recalled. “I used physical force to extract myself to get off the bed and to head for the door. It was a physical effort to get out of his embrace. He kept trying, he kept going even after I said no.”

At the time, she added, she saw Keyes’s actions not as sexual assault but merely as the attempts of a guy to hook up on the first date. A few days later, she asked him if he wanted to meet and listen to jazz.

But recalling the episode now, she said, she was angry at her younger self for not realizing his behavior was unacceptable.

About a year later, she was surprised to receive an email from Keyes, in which he appeared to admit some kind of wrongdoing.

“It’s clear that you’re not my biggest fan. I want to really apologize for being less than gentlemanly. Hopefully you can forgive me,” the email read. “While you’re in town if you’d like to catch up over coffee, that would be nice, but I also understand if you prefer not. I hope you are well.”

According to one source, Keyes sent a total of six such emails to women with whom he has had encounters. Keyes apparently felt compelled to write the emails after he was rebuked for his “disgraceful behavior” by an acquaintance, the source said.

‘David was always trying to impress and seduce women’

After graduating with honors from the University of California in Los Angeles with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies, Keyes immigrated to Israel, where he served in the Strategic Division of the Israel Defense Forces and pursued a master’s degree in diplomacy at Tel Aviv University.

He later moved to New York, where he was a rising star in the local human rights advocacy firmament. He was appointed Netanyahu’s spokesman for the international media in March 2016, a job in which he has made a mark by producing several viral videos, usually featuring the prime minister addressing Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians or Iran. He has been rumored to be the leading candidate to succeed Danny Danon in the role of ambassador to the United Nations.

Most of the accusations against him stem from the period between 2012 and 2015, when Keyes served as the executive director of Advancing Human Rights, a New York-based nonprofit seeking to connect dissidents in closed societies with people who might be able to help them.

David Keyes, left, and Robert Bernstein, the brains behind Advancing Human Rights. (courtesy)

Several of Keyes’s former colleagues, and several casual acquaintances from his years in the US before he took up the job as Netanyahu’s spokesman, have accused him of unprofessional behavior that made women uncomfortable in offices and other environments.

In August of 2014, Keyes invited a woman from Washington he knew to a party. She replied by asking if he had gotten her put “on the invite list.” Keyes wrote back: “You’re on the list. And I kicked off everyone else. What’s your number?”

Keyes asked to meet her at least three times in the weeks and months that followed, but the woman persistently refused, according to an email correspondence shown to The Times of Israel.

“I believe my polite deflection is quite evident,” she said last month.

“David was always trying to impress and seduce women,” one of Keyes’s former coworkers said. “He conducted himself inappropriately. One woman complained that he made [unwanted] sexual advances.”

A different former colleague reported that he made unseemly advances toward her and other women around the office.

“After he went to conferences, he would give me business cards of people he met — only women — and ask me to add them to his personal contacts,” she recalled. “He would circle the names of women he liked, and he would draw hearts around the ones he liked the most.”

David Keyes speaks to Prime Minister Netanyahu as he opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, July 23, 2018. (Gali Tibbon/Pool via AP)

Another former coworker said Keyes would show “very suggestive” YouTube videos, including some showing naked women, in the office. “There were a lot of things that happened that were inappropriate, to the point that HR warned him,” she said.

“When I talked to him, he could not look at my face. He would stare at my chest. And it was more pronounced with women who were more well-endowed than me,” she added.

Several women and two men interviewed for this article said Keyes could not be left alone with female interns because he made them feel uncomfortable.

“There was an unofficial policy that he cannot be alone with interns. It was something that was well known in the office,” one woman said.

An acquaintance of Keyes said he once saw him make advances toward every single woman at a wedding they both attended. “It was almost as if he hoped that if he hit on 100 girls, one of them will end up going to bed with him.”

Even the women who had consensual relationships with Keyes complained about his aggressiveness, the acquaintance said.

“He’s just a very creepy guy,” this Keyes acquaintance concluded. “I wouldn’t let him get close to my daughter.”

“I think David’s ungentlemanly and a jerk. [But he] didn’t sexually assault me,” journalist Eliana Johnson, who currently covers the White House for Politico, told The Times of Israel.

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