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Israeli sexual assault scandal could see US envoy fired

Ron Dermer gives a speech in Washington, DC [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 September, 2018

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The US envoy Ron Dermer has come under fire for not reporting sexual assault allegations made against a top Netanyahu aide.

An opposition Israeli lawmaker on Sunday called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to sack his ambassador to the US for failing to report sexual assault allegations against a top aide. 

MP Karin Elharrar said Ron Dermer should be recalled from Washington for not reporting allegations against David Keyes, Netanyahu's spokesman to foreign media. 

Last week, Julia Salazar, a candidate for New York's state senate, accused Keyes of sexually assaulting her five years ago. WSJ reporter Shayndi Raice then tweeted she too had a "terrible encounter" with Keyes before he became a government spokesman. She called him a "predator" and someone who had "absolutely no conception of the word 'no'".

More than a dozen other women have since come forward with sexual misconduct allegations, some of which reportedly took place after Keyes took up his position in early 2016. 

Keyes has denied the allegations, saying they are all "deeply misleading and many of them are categorically false".

The government spokesman has since taken a leave of absence as the ballooning scandal proves embarassing for the Israeli premier, whose close inner circle has in the past been rocked by accusations of sexual misconduct. 

Natan Eshel, a former top aide, was forced to resign in 2012 after allegations emerged that he harassed and intimidated a woman in the prime minister's office, including taking pictures up her skirt. Earlier this year, Netanyahu's son Yair came under fire after a recording emerged of him joyriding at taxpayer expense to Tel Aviv strip clubs and making misogynistic comments about strippers, waitresses and other women.

Over the weekend, Dermer, who was perhaps Netanyahu's closest associate before taking office in Washington, confirmed he was warned about Keyes in late 2016 by then-WSJ columnist Bret Stephens.

Keyes was reportedly barred from visiting WSJ offices because of harassment complaints of women there against him. Stephens had also told Dermer that "Keyes posed a risk to women in Israeli government offices".

Dermer said he did not report this further since he did not consider the harassment allegations criminal.

But Elharrar noted in her letter to Netanyahu that Dermer was unqualified to judge this. Under Israeli law, sexual harassment is a crime and public servants are required to report any knowledge of it, which she said is grounds for his dismissal. 

Netanyahu has yet to comment on the affair. But opposition lawmakers have said the Israeli premier's silence could be interpreted as tolerance of the alleged acts. 

Michal Rozin, an opposition MP with the left-wing Meretz party and former head of Israel's umberalla organisation for victims of sexual violence, has called for an investigation into both the allegations and Dermer's conduct.

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