Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson to the international media David Keyes said Thursday that he was taking time off from his job to fend off various allegations of sexual misconduct.
“In light of the false and misleading accusations against me and in order not to distract from the important work of the Prime Minister, I have asked to take time off to clear my name,” he said in a statement sent to reporters. “I am fully confident that the truth will come out.”
Minutes later, the Prime Minister Office issued a separate statement saying that it had “accepted David Keyes’ request to take time off.”
It was not immediately clear how long his absence would last, or whether it was open-ended.
Netanyahu reportedly spoke to Keyes before the announcement. According to Hadashot TV news, Keyes understood after the conversation that he needed to take a leave of absence.
Keyes’s announcement came after four Knesset members called on Netanyahu to suspend Keyes until the reports about his alleged sexual misconduct had been clarified.
It also came shortly after The Times of Israel asked him to comment on a fresh allegation — that he made an “aggressive, sexual” advance at a woman in Israel weeks after he became Netanyahu’s spokesperson in 2016. The woman involved, an immigrant from North America, spoke with The Times of Israel earlier Thursday. A second woman also contacted ToI and detailed a complaint against him Thursday.
On Wednesday, The Times of Israel published an investigation citing 12 women who described a pattern of inappropriate behavior by Keyes toward themselves and other women in the US in the years before he worked for Netanyahu. The two women who spoke to ToI on Thursday brought the number to 14.
New York State Senate candidate Julia Salazar on Tuesday had detailed her alleged 2013 sexual assault by Keyes in an interview with the Jezebel website.
Hours later, Wall Street Journal reporter Shayndi Raice, responding to Salazar’s allegation, described an “uncomfortable” encounter with Keyes, whom she called a predator.
Another of the 12 detailed 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.
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.”
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.
On Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 10 reported that two female employees at the Washington, DC, think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies have complained to their superiors about Keyes having “harassed” them in 2013.
Keyes is not the first person to leave the Prime Minister’s Office over sexual misconduct claims. In 2013, Netanyahu’s chief of staff Gil Sheffer was accused of sexual harassment. A year earlier, top aide Natan Eshel was forced out over over allegations that he had used a surreptitiously placed camera to film under the skirt of a female colleague.
Keyes had been rumored to be the leading candidate to succeed Danny Danon in the role of Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.
“I think Prime Minister Netanyahu must intervene,” Merav Ben-Ari, of the coalition Kulanu party, tweeted on Thursday, being the first lawmaker to publicly respond to the Keyes matter.
“It makes no sense that a senior adviser harasses [women] — you could even say that he obsesses about many women — while he continues to work as if it were nothing.
“If I would have an adviser like that (God forbid), I would have put him on leave without pay first thing in the morning until all the facts had been clarified,” she added.
Opposition lawmaker Michal Rozin (Meretz) said that Keyes’s alleged actions should be condemned by Netanyahu.
“Keyes doesn’t only represent the prime minister to the world but also the country. Silence sends a message of support,” she wrote on Twitter.
“I call on the prime minister to suspend Keyes from his position and to clarify the facts. The brave testimonies that were gathered paint a worrying picture of a pattern of harassment,” she added. “While the rest of the world advances and campaigns for zero tolerance to sexual violence, the prime minister… remains silent.”
Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie likewise said called on Netanyahu to suspend Keyes, at least until the reports on his alleged misconduct have been clarified.
“The silence from the Prime Minister’s Office is very infuriating, and may be interpreted as acceptance of [Keyes’] deeds,” she said in a statement.
Ksenia Svetlova, a lawmaker from the Zionist Union, recalled previous sex-related affairs involving the PMO, saying that the “message that his silence conveys is that woman are an object for sexual gratification. The prime minister needs to act immediately in the appropriate manner.”