Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted his spokesman David Keyes' request to take leave, the Prime Minister's Office said on Thursday amid an ongoing controversy that erupted this week when at least 12 women came forward with accusations that Keyes sexually assaulted and/or harrassed them.
The first woman to come forward with an accusation that Keyes assaulted her was New York State Senate hopeful Julia Salazar, whose claim against Keyes was made public on Tuesday.
Salazar’s claim was followed with a tweet by Wall Street journalist Shayndi Raice, published on Wednesday, describing Keyes as a “predator” and his “mistreatment of women” as “an open secret.”
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The website Times of Israel reported Wednesday that 10 additional women had come forward with claims against Keyes. The allegations, according to the report, “include one detailed accusation of physically aggressive behavior by Keyes, claims of overly aggressive advances by him, and incidents of inappropriate behavior.” The website also said it had obtained copies of two letters of apology written by Keyes to women in which he expressed regret “for being less than gentlemanly.”
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All of the women spoke to the website on condition of anonymity.
In response, Keyes told the Times of Israel that “all of the accusations are deeply misleading and many of them are categorically false.”
The report said that Keyes’ sexual misbehavior with women was so well-known that he was asked to stay away from certain offices during the years he worked as a political activist in the U.S. Between 2012 and 2015, Keyes served as the executive director of Advancing Human Rights, before being named to his current post by Netanyahu.
The report quoted former co-workers as describing continual complaints of unwanted and “unseemly” advances towards women by Keyes, as well as other inappropriate behavior such as screening suggestive videos in the office. The report said that Keyes had been warned by human resources managers about his behavior.
In one of the offices, a woman interviewed by Times of Israel said, “There was an unofficial policy that he cannot be alone with interns.”
A spokesperson for the foundation told Haaretz that “FDD takes all allegations of inappropriate behavior, either by our employees or our guests, extremely seriously. Over the years, management has put in place strict policies and best practices that reflect zero tolerance for harassment or any form of inappropriate behavior.
Keyes denied Salazar’s account to Haaretz on Wednesday, calling it a “false accusation” made by “someone who has proven to be repeatedly dishonest about her own life.”
An additional allegation surfaced Wednesday from the Washington think tank The Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Keyes visited the Foundation’s offices on a number of occasions in 2013, when he was still living in the U.S., and according to a report on Israeli Channel 10, at least two women who worked there had complained about allegedly “aggressive” sexual advances by Keyes.
According to the report, Keyes’ problematic behavior towards the women ceased after they formally complained and senior officials at the think tank intervened with Keyes. The Channel 10 reporter, Barak Ravid, added that two years ago, in 2016, he had spoken to Julia Salazar on the record about her experience with Keyes and she gave him the same detailed description of forced oral sex that she gave to the website Jezebel on Tuesday. At the time, Keyes admitted having met with Salazar but denied any coercive behavior.