In this July 23, 2018 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to his spokesman David Keyes as he opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office.
Image: Associated Press

David Keyes, the Israeli Prime Minister’s foreign media spokesman, is taking a leave of absence after the Times of Israel reported that 12 women accused him of sexual misconduct including forced oral sex, forcible kissing, and “overly aggressive advances.”

Keyes released a statement to the Jerusalem Post, saying, “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. I am fully confident that the truth will come out.”

Advertisement

The Prime Minister’s office has accepted the leave of absence, the paper reports, which comes as several Israeli lawmakers called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to investigate the claims.

“Keyes can no longer represent Israel in the foreign media,” said Michal Rozin, an elected member of the left-wing Meretz party who previously served as the executive director of the Association of Crisis Centers for Victims of Sexual Assault. “The silence of the prime minister can be interpreted in the world as accepting his behavior. The brave testimonies that have been revealed in recent days paint a disturbing picture of a pattern of offense.”

On Tuesday, New York State Senate candidate Julia Salazar identified herself as the first accuser after the conservative site the Daily Caller named her as the woman who accused Keyes of sexual assault in a private Facebook post that was reprinted, in part, by the Times of Israel in 2016. She told Jezebel that in 2013, when she was 22, Keyes forced her to perform oral sex on him at his home in Manhattan. “He said to me, you’re not going to leave. I’m not going to let you leave until I come, and was pushing my head down. At that point, I was crying the whole time. I just did what he told me to. As soon as he finished, I left. I left his apartment, crying,” she said.

Advertisement

While Salazar had spoken to other reporters about the allegations on background, she did not intend publicly identify herself. “I obviously never planned to speak about this publicly on the record at all,” she told Jezebel.

On Twitter, Wall Street Journal reporter Shayndi Raice expressed support for Salazar and shared her own encounter with Keyes, whom she called a “predator.”

“The man had absolutely no conception of the word ‘no,’” she wrote on Twitter. “No matter how often I said no, he would not stop pushing himself on me. I was able to extricate myself quickly and it was a very brief and uncomfortable moment but I knew as I walked away I had encountered a predator.”

Advertisement

Over the past several months, the Times of Israel has spoken to 10 other women who made similar allegations. Most date between 2012 and 2015, when Keyes served as the executive director of Advancing Human Rights. According to their report, former co-workers said that Keyes made female interns so uncomfortable that he was not allowed to be alone with them. “There were a lot of things that happened that were inappropriate, to the point that HR warned him,” one woman said.

While Keyes continues to deny any wrongdoing, several of the accusers received emails from him after the alleged encounters where he apologized for inappropriate behavior.

The paper chose to publish the accounts, all of which were anonymous, only after Salazar publicly came forward.