Netanyahu aide accused of assault takes leave of absence

FILE - 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. An opposition Israeli lawmaker is calling on Netanyahu to suspend Keyes following sexual assault allegations. Michal Rozin, a legislator with the dovish Meretz party, says David Keyes, Netanyahu's spokesman to the foreign media, can no longer represent Israel to the world amid the accusations. (Gali Tibbon/Pool via AP, File)

JERUSALEM (AP) — A top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday that he was taking a leave of absence amid an uproar over allegations of sexual assault.

David Keyes, Netanyahu’s spokesman with the foreign press, issued a statement saying that “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.”

Julia Salazar, a candidate for New York’s state senate, accuses Keyes of sexually assaulting her five years ago. Others have since come forward. Wall Street Journal reporter Shayndi Raice tweeted she too had a “terrible encounter” with Keyes. She described someone who had “absolutely no conception of the word ‘no.'”

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

At least four female Israeli lawmakers called upon Netanyahu to suspend Keyes after the allegations surfaced earlier this week.

The women called on Netanyahu to intervene and condemn the alleged actions by Keyes, saying his spokesman could not be effective as he battles the allegations.

Netanyahu’s office hasn’t commented on the matter.

Among the Knesset members calling for a suspension was one member of Netanyahu’s governing coalition. Merav Ben Ari, a Kulanu party parliament member, said was “unreasonable” that Keyes remained in his position.

Michal Rozin, a legislator with the opposition Meretz party, said Keyes can no longer represent Israel to the world. She said Netanyahu’s silence thus far could also be interpreted as tolerance of the alleged acts.

Keyes has served as Netanyahu’s spokesman to the foreign media since 2016. He is considered a close aide to the prime minister and deeply involved in Netanyahu’s social media policy. Netanyahu rarely speaks to the media, preferring instead to deliver his messages in tightly controlled video clips released on Facebook and Twitter.

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