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LONDON − That the two men had once been lovers and remained close friends was known to many in Ireland, but recent revelations about Senator David Norris’ ties to Israeli social activist Ezra Yitzhak Nawi are now threatening to derail the popular Irish politician’s presidential ambitions.

Several of Norris’ top aides on his campaign team have resigned over the last few days − from his director of elections, Derek Murphy, and director of communications, Jane Cregan, to his youth coordinator, Orlaith Foley − without citing specific reasons, but hinting that the new revelations had taken them by surprise.

Doorstepped by journalists outside his Dublin home Saturday, the senator also refused to answer questions about his role in the 1992 case involving Nawi, in which it is being alleged Norris sent a letter to the Israeli court, seeking clemency for Nawi, who had been convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old boy and was awaiting sentence at the time.

Meanwhile, some of the senators backing Norris have now publicly asked him for more information about the case before they agree to nominate him − something he needs to ensure his place on the ticket. As of July 22, he had secured the support of 15 of the 20 members of parliament required for a nomination.

The new questions come at a bad time for Norris, a well respected civil rights campaigner, and the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in Ireland. He is credited with overthrowing the anti-gay laws in the famously conservative country. This May, a 2002 interview he did with a small current affairs magazine was dredged up, in which he seems to suggest that he could understand pedophilia.

Norris has denied ever making such comments and said that the reporter took his comments − made in the course of an academic discussion of ancient Greece − twisted them, and reported them out of context. The headline of the article was “Senator backs sex with children.”

Reports about Nawi and Norris began to surface two years ago, following a report in Haaretz that mentioned Nawi’s conviction for statutory rape. The conviction came up in court after Nawi was indicted for assaulting police officers during the destruction of illegal Bedouin structures in 2007.

The police prosecutor presented the court with the fact that Nawi had a criminal past, citing his conviction for sodomy of a minor.

Nawi said at the time that he had had an affair with the 15-year-old boy in question, and it was only when the boy’s parents found out about it that they lodged a police complaint.

According to Israeli law, adults are prohibited from having sexual relations with a minor under the age of 16. Nawi defined the affair at the time as “a mistake.”

Nawi declined to comment on the report.