Out of a job: 9 things to know for September 14
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Out of a job: 9 things to know for September 14

PM flack Keyes takes leave, but pressure is still on after a report Jerusalem was warned about him; and a police chief who sparred with Netanyahu is remembered for his mistakes

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)

1. New allegation: David Keyes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign media spokesperson, announced he was taking a leave of absence Thursday to “clear his name,” a day after ToI’s Raphael Ahren published an expose on 12 women who made sexual misconduct and even assault claims against him. But it may have been what was coming next that prompted the announcement.

  • Keyes’ statement came only a couple of hours after ToI contacted him to comment on claims of sexual misconduct from when he was already in the Prime Minister’s Office, unlike the other allegations which dated back to his time in New York before taking the job with Netanyahu. It’s unclear, though, if that is what precipitated the move.
  • According to reports, Netanyahu spoke to Keyes before he announced his leave. It’s not known what was said, but Channel 10 reports that Netanyahu did not speak to him about values or the wrongness of his actions.
  • Hadashot TV news reports that Keyes understood after the conversation that he needed to step back.
  • Keyes said only he is “taking time off” but that’s widely understood to mean he’s likely leaving the post permanently.
  • According to Hadashot, unlike other people in the PM’s office accused of sex crimes who Netanyahu tried to keep around, Keyes wasn’t worth the hassle.

2. Unheeded warning: It may be too little too late for the PM’s office, though, after a New York Times report Friday morning that former Wall Street Journal editor (and current Times columnist) Bret Stephens warned Israeli ambassador and Netanyahu confidant Ron Dermer against hiring Keyes, but was apparently ignored.

  • Why it’s such a problem is that it means people close to Netanyahu can no longer claim they simply did not know about the claims against Keyes, which would have already looked specious given the fact that his reputation was pretty well-known.
  • The PMO has been almost totally silent about the affair, but when Julia Salazar’s accusation first came out in 2016, it pointed out to journalists that Keyes had been vetted and passed a polygraph test.
  • (Despite most of the world dismissing polygraphs as quack science, in Israel it’s still widely used by employers, including the government and police, and is considered reliable.)
  • According to the New York Times report, Stephens practically banned Keyes from the Wall Street Journal’s offices, which he frequented to mingle with conservative columnists, and to proposition women.
  • “Stephens… said he gave Mr. Keyes a dressing-down, calling him a ‘disgrace to men’ and ‘a disgrace as a Jew,’ and barred him from the office without an appointment,” the Gray Lady reports.

3. A troubling pattern: The Stephens revelation is already making waves, with at least one lawmaker saying Netanyahu needs to answer for his hiring of Keyes.

  • “Netanyahu knew about this too? Another affair and another affair. In the rest of the world, sexual harassment is dealt with seriously and harassers end their careers in shame,” Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir writes on Twitter. “But as usual in Netanyahu’s office, for Netanyahu, everything is allowed.”
  • Shaffir is referring to the fact that Keyes is not the first in Netanyahu’s office to be accused of sex crimes, following in the sleazy footsteps of alleged upskirt pervert Natan Eshel, and alleged sexual assailant Gil Sheffer.

4. Primary concerns: While Keyes was sliding out of a job, his accuser Julia Salazar was sliding into one, handily defeating her opponent in the Democratic primary for New York state senate on Thursday.

  • Salazar’s Keyes accusation was only the latest affair in a campaign full of them, after she was accused of misrepresenting her Jewish heritage and was outed for having been jailed for a sordid incident involving former baseball player Keith Hernandez.
  • While Salazar is a strident and vocal critic of Israel (she was arrested here for protesting the Gaza war in 2014) she won on a campaign that focused on anything but international affairs.
  • In the words of Rolling Stone: “Her victory is yet another indication that the status quo is, on the local level, under serious assault in the Democratic Party. Salazar’s platform was particularly focused on affordable housing and tenants’ rights, issues that resonate with most New Yorkers. She also staked out positions far to the left of her opponent, such as calling for ICE to be abolished, and refused to take corporate money, fueling her campaign with small donations and a fleet of grassroots activists.”
  • Meanwhile, another Israel critic, Cynthia Nixon, fell in her bid to unseat New York governor Andrew Cuomo, despite having name/face recognition from “Sex and the City.”
  • Nixon had recently been forced to fend off allegations of silence on anti-Semitism and BDS support, though she was never really seen as a having a real shot at beating Cuomo.

5. Roni told to hit the road: While Keyes’s ouster has briefly grabbed the spotlight, the bigger news in Israel is the apparent dismissal of police chief Roni Alsheich, which grabs front pages in all the major dailies.

  • Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan attempted to deflect criticism that the decision to not extend Alsheich’s term for a fourth year was normal and unconnected to probes against Netanyahu or the prime minister’s own dislike for the commish. While Netanyahu has not commented on Alsheich, tabloid Israel Hayom, seen as his mouthpiece, reads as broadly supportive of the decision.
  • “He didn’t stop on red,” reads the title of an infographic run by the paper detailing all his controversies, a good number of which revolve around his sparring with Netanyahu.
  • The paper’s Amnon Lord writes that Alsheich “turned himself into a lame duck” with an interview he gave the Uvda TV program in which he said he was being harassed for investigating Netanyahu, and his insistence on publicizing police recommendations to indict Netanyahu.
  • Though Israel Hayom claims that a Thursday morning meeting to tell Alsheich he was not being extended was “complicated” for Erdan, Yedioth Ahronoth writes that it came as a surprise to nobody, least of all the police chief.
  • Columnist Ben Dror Yemini writes in Yedioth that “while Alsheich made fumbles, he was not chasing down” the prime minister.
  • (Separately, Yemini is made fun of by the 7th Eye media watchdog for including a picture of himself with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in another column he penned, which they call “pulling a Bismuth” after the Israel Hayom editor who loves seeing his own mug in ink.)

6. Nothing will change: No matter the motivation for pushing him out, pundits agree that changing the police chief won’t change boo about the investigations into Netanyahu.

  • “These probes are not run by the generals but the lower level officers,” Hadashot TV news commentator Amnon Abramovich said Thursday night.
  • In Haaretz, Gidi Weitz writes that while Alsheich was a scapegoat, he could have intervened to at least belittle his underlings and cast aspersions on the probes, which may have had a marginal effect.
  • “But the commish did just the opposite: He encouraged and backed the investigators, publicly sided with enlisting state’s witnesses against the boss, supported the police recommendations alleging that Netanyahu had taken bribes, and described, behind closed doors, the cases against the prime minister as strong. The independence he displayed caused some of Netanyahu’s cronies to talk about him privately as a traitor.”

7. Mo money, mo problems: Marking 25 years since the Oslo Accords, White House official Jared Kushner tells the New York Times that deep cuts to Palestinian aid will actually end up helping the peace process.

  • “All we’re doing is dealing with things as we see them and not being scared out of doing the right thing. I think, as a result, you have a much higher chance of actually achieving a real peace,” he tells the paper.
  • Somehow, Kushner’s comments translate in the Ynet English news website to the headline of “Kushner: Palestinians deserved to lose US aid.”
  • At least he didn’t call for “peaceful ethnic cleansing.”

8. Broker myth broken: In Foreign Policy, Palestinian writer Dalia Hatuqa writes that even before Trump, the US was never an honest broker in negotiations.

  • But with it now out in the open “the Palestinians now have an opportunity to carve out their own path by further embracing grassroots organizing, supporting independent Palestinian institutions that eschew international aid, and rallying new supporters around the world.”
  • Hatuqa also notes that, “In recent weeks, as the world looked elsewhere, [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] took a series of steps to tighten his grip on Palestinian governmental bodies,” noting his takeover of the PA finance ministry and virtual defenestration of any remaining critics in the PLO.

9. Uman? Oh, man: Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer brings a dispatch from the Ukrainian city of Uman, which every Rosh Hashanah is inundated with tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims who want to pray at the graveside of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav.

  • While the men-only festival has gained a reputation as being a drug-and-whore filled getaway for some, Pfeffer gives a more nuanced and personal look at the crush of pilgrims looking for absolution, mystical inspiration and maybe a bit more.
  • “It’s a hellish place – where Israeli and Ukrainian organized crime gangs and cults of violent rabbis have staked out their fiefdoms along the dank Pushkina Street, leading to the grave site. A town where Haredi politicians, convicted rapists, dark money and blind devotion hold sway, and stories of miracles mix with rumors of rank prostitution, abandoned exploited teenagers and the whiff of low-grade weed. Uman is every progressive Jew’s nightmare,” he writes.
  • “But look beyond the filth, and there’s also a more optimistic vision of the future. A blurring of divisions and breakdown of hierarchies. Uman is a place where the power of the rabbis, who tried to prevent their followers from participating, has waned. Where there is no longer any distance between Ashkenazim or Mizrahim, ultra-Orthodox and secular, Israel and the Diaspora.”
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