Opposition lawmaker files request for emergency Knesset hearing on Keyes affair

Ksenia Svetlova calls to summon US envoy Dermer for not alerting PMO to warning about spokesman’s alleged improper behavior, slams ‘thunderous silence of all those involved’

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Journalist and political analyst Ksenia Svetlova, formerly an MK from the Zionist Union party. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Journalist and political analyst Ksenia Svetlova, formerly an MK from the Zionist Union party. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Zionist Union lawmaker Ksenia Svetlova filed a request Monday to convene an emergency session of the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality to assess sexual harassment accusations made against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign press spokesperson David Keyes.

Keyes stepped down from his post this week, after over a dozen complained about his improper behavior, including allegations of sexual harassment and assault. He denied the claims and vowed to clear his name.

Svetlova, in a letter to committee MK Aida Touma-Sliman, called for Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer to be summoned for questioning following the revelation that the envoy had been alerted to Keyes’ alleged conduct and chose not to report it.

“The negligence, the leniency and the thunderous silence of all those involved, require the intervention of the committee headed by you,” Svetlova wrote. “We must not ignore this disturbing story that sends such a problematic message to all women in Israel. ”

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.'”

The Times of Israel subsequently published an exposé regarding Keyes, citing 12 women who described a pattern of inappropriate behavior toward themselves and other women, including at least two accounts of what could be considered sexual assault. Since then, four additional women have contacted The Times of Israel to complain about their encounters with Keyes. To date, four of the women who have complained about Keyes’s behavior have been named.

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

On Sunday, the Civil Service Commission started looking into the matter.

The commission’s Department of Discipline is also investigating the role of Dermer, who on Friday acknowledged that he was warned about Keyes’ behavior towards women but failed to alert the relevant authorities.

On Friday, the New York Times reported that veteran US journalist Bret Stephens had contacted Dermer in November 2016 and warned him that Keyes “posed a risk to women in Israeli government offices.” Dermer’s office acknowledged receiving Stephens’s message, but the ambassador decided not to pass it on to Netanyahu because the allegations were not criminal in nature. Keyes was appointed Netanyahu’s international spokesperson in March 2016.

The commission’s probe will primarily focus on an accusation of misconduct while Keyes worked for the PMO. The Times of Israel on Thursday published the testimony of a woman in her 20s, a recent immigrant from North America, who accused Keyes of having made an “aggressive, sexual” advance weeks after he started working for Netanyahu.

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, namely the woman mentioned in The Times of Israel report.

David Keyes, right, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on May 7, 2017. (AP/Oded Balilty, Pool)

Svetlova’s request for a hearing comes after her fellow opposition MK Karine Elharrar on Sunday called on Netanyahu to dismiss Dermer for failing to report the sexual misconduct allegations. Elharrar, of the Yesh Atid party, told Netanyahu in a letter that Dermer was legally obligated to pass on the warnings of inappropriate behavior about the prime minister’s foreign media adviser.

“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.”

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.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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