Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to appoint David Keyes, head of an American organization that supports human rights activity in China, Russia and the Arab world, as his foreign media spokesman, senior sources have told Haaretz.
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In recent years Keyes has harshly attacked the regime in China, which Netanyahu is trying to develop ties with, as well as those of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, with whom Israel has a strategic alliance.
Netanyahu’s intention to appoint Keyes was first reported Monday by Herb Keinon in The Jerusalem Post. The Prime Minister’s Office refused to confirm or deny the appointment.
California-born Keyes immigrated to Israel a few years ago. In recent years he has been living in New York and has been executive director of Advancing Human Rights, a group that acts discreetly to help human rights activists all over the world, and is also active on social networks on the Internet.
Keyes will replace Mark Regev, who has served as Netanyahu’s foreign media adviser since 2009, and will soon be taking up the post of Israel’s ambassador to London.
A senior Israeli official said that Keyes is very close to some of Netanyahu’s associates, foremost among them Israel’s envoy to Washington, Ron Dermer, who recommended that the premier appoint Keyes.
Keyes formerly worked at the conservative Shalem Institute in Jerusalem, which is funded by Sheldon Adelson, the American casino mogul and owner of the Israel Hayom daily newspaper. Keyes also worked at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which was headed until a few months ago by the current director general of the Foreign Ministry and another close Netanyahu associate, Dr. Dore Gold.
At Advancing Human Rights, Keyes supported and encouraged opposition activists in China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran and other countries. He also established the website CyberDissidents.org, with the aim of helping to empower opposition movements and regime opponents in the Middle East.
Keyes also helped launch Movements.org, a crowd-sourcing human rights platform, according to The New York Times, which is designed to connect oppositionists in dictatorial countries with Westerners interested in helping them.
Keyes’ human rights activity and the articles he has written on the subject are liable to clash with certain diplomatic, security and economic interests of the State of Israel as defined by Netanyahu in recent years – particularly in regard to relations with Egypt, China and Russia.
For example, Keyes is a harsh opponent of Sissi’s regime in Egypt, and even called to end U.S. military assistance to the country, as long as it continues to imprison human rights activists and journalists. Netanyahu has described promotion of economic ties with China as one of his top priorities, and the government even passed two decisions to that end. For his part, Keyes has been working actively in recent years against the regime in Beijing and its human rights violations.
Raised ire of Beijing
Among other things, for example, Keyes, along with chess champion Gary Kasparov, led a campaign to change the name of the street where the Chinese embassy in Washington is located to Liu Xiaobo Square, after the human rights activist, author and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is in a Chinese prison. The campaign, which Congress backed, aroused Beijing’s anger.
In an interview with the Radio Free Asia blog Free for All in June 2014, Keyes harshly attacked the Chinese regime.
“I think it’s provocative to impose dictatorships on over a billion people,” he said in response to claims from the Chinese foreign ministry that he is a provocateur. “This a struggle for the future of China Will China become a democracy or continue to impose dictatorship on so many people?”