New York State Senate candidate Julia Salazar has accused David Keyes, the spokesperson to foreign media for the Prime Minister of Israel, of sexual assault. But her reasons for coming forward now, she tells Jezebel, weren’t really on her own terms.
Salazar first posted the allegations on Twitter, writing, “I’ve been informed that a story is about to run which identifies me as a victim of sexual assault. Before this runs, I want to come forward and confirm that I was a victim of sexual assault by David Keyes—the Prime Minister of Israel’s spokesperson to foreign media.” Salazar continued: “This story appears to be an effort to cast doubt upon my, and other women’s, accusations against Keyes.”
Multiple attempts by Jezebel to contact Keyes were unsuccessful at press time; we will update this post if we hear back. He commented on the allegations to Haaretz, saying, “This false accusation is made by someone who has proven to be repeatedly dishonest about her own life. This is yet another example of her dishonesty.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the Daily Caller published a report by writer Joe Simonson naming Salazar as the woman who accused Keyes in a private Facebook post that was deleted after the Times of Israel picked up the allegation in 2016. The Daily Caller News Foundation Editor-in-Chief Christopher Bedford defended the reporting. “As for any unfortunate allegations our reporting was intended to ‘out’ a victim of alleged sexual assault, or is ‘an effort to cast doubt upon my, and other women’s, accusations against Keyes,’ our reporting shows that simply isn’t the case,” Bedford told Jezebel via email. “We asked for confirmation, as reporters from other outlets have in the past, and received confirmation. We never received any request to not print her identity, and indeed did not before she issued a public statement. In past stories on the sensitive issue of sexual assault of both public and private individuals, we have declined to print without permission from the alleged victim.” But the email, published by the Daily Caller in a story on its website, paints a contrary account.
“I have sources telling me Julia was behind the sexual misconduct accusations lobbied against David Keyes in 2016. She later deleted the social media posts with the accusations,” Simonson wrote to Salazar’s campaign in his request for comment. “A description of the accuser in a Times of Israel piece also perfectly matches Julia. Why did she delete these accusations? Does she still stand by them? My deadline is in one hour.”
The allegations come two days before a Democratic primary race that has attracted national attention: Salazar, a 27-year-old democratic socialist, is challenging a 16-year-Democratic incumbent who, for years, aligned with New York State Republicans. While Salazar’s campaign gained momentum from wunderkind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old democratic socialist who ousted a ten-term Congressman in the primaries in the Bronx, in recent weeks her campaign has been plagued by a string of controversies, including apparent discrepancies about her claims of being a Colombian immigrant, the authenticity of her conversion to Judaism and coming from a working class background, along with a bizarre legal battle involving former Mets player Keith Hernandez.
On Twitter, Daily Beast editor Harry Siegel said he received a tip about the allegations against Keyes, but declined to report on them. “Speaking as someone who’s been VERY skeptical of Salazar—and who was tipped to this info and didn’t report it—she’s 100% right here. I see no way that this is relevant to her campaign, or whatsoever appropriate to put out now,” he wrote.
“For one, I never wanted to speak about this publicly,” Salazar told Jezebel over the phone. “There are reporters who I spoke to at great length on background about it, but never I wanted to speak publicly about it, never wanted attention on it, so for people to tie to it anything else in my life, or to try to conflate me being sexually assaulted with anything else that’s been reported, is really, I think, it’s really cynical and really just appalling.”
Salazar alleges that in November 2013, when she was a 22-year-old student at Columbia University, Keyes reached out to her on Twitter. (Salazar, who ran social media for her school’s chapter of Arab-Israeli advocacy group J Street, showed Jezebel Keyes’s initial direct messages, dated November 6, 2013). Salazar told Jezebel that Keyes, then the executive director of human rights nonprofit Advancing Human Rights and co-founder of CyberDissidents.org, struck up a conversation, and he suggested they meet up for tea and discuss Middle East politics. “It seemed totally innocuous,” she said. “I didn’t get the impression that he was flirting with me.”
Later that month, they met at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in the Upper West Side, she recalled. About 20 minutes after they arrived, while deep in conversation about Israel and Palestine, Salazar says, the cafe closed for the evening and the two carried on a conversation after they left. “I was engrossed in conversation with him, it didn’t really matter to me where we were going—another cafe or a bar or something,” she said. She followed Keyes to the train and went a couple of stops South to Midtown, ending up at a luxury building with a doorman. “I remember thinking: Is this normal? Huh, I guess this is normal. I don’t really know this guy, but he seems totally fine,” she told Jezebel. “We were just talking about politics.”
After they got off the elevator and walked into a one-bedroom apartment, she realized Keyes had taken her to his home. “I think it was the first sort of check on my comfort level,” she said, but reasoned: “Well, I can leave at any time.” After they sat down, the continued their discussion. “I kept my purse on my shoulder, my shoes on, didn’t want to stay,” she said, “he was pretty pushy.”
Minutes later, Salazar alleges, Keyes assaulted her. “He really insisted, and I think that’s when he first put his hands on me, pulling me onto the couch.” Keyes “physically powered over me, put his arm around me and started forcibly kissing me,” she told Jezebel. She expressed her discomfort. “I was resisting,” she said. “I kept saying I have to go, I have to go.”
Then, she says, Keyes began to undress and, Salazar alleges, forced her to perform oral sex on him. “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.”
Salazar says Keyes followed up with her after the alleged incident. “I totally ignored him at first,” she said, hoping that he would cease contact. Eventually, Salazar says, she responded and told him she was “uncomfortable” with happened and didn’t want to see Keyes again. “He feigned shock,” she said, didn’t admit fault, but told her to not tell anyone else about what happened.
“I really isolated myself,” Salazar told Jezebel about the aftermath. “I think I thought very briefly about reporting it, and immediately was like, no way. This guy is powerful. I don’t have proof.”
In March 2016, Keyes was appointed as the foreign media spokesperson for the Prime Minister of Israel. “In that moment I felt that he was being rewarded,” Salazar says, prompting her to write a Facebook post about the alleged incident. She deleted the post after the Times of Israel published an article in which Keyes was “accused Tuesday of sexual assault by an alleged victim who posted her claims on Facebook before quickly erasing them.” The woman matches Salazar’s description as a Columbia student who studied “Middle East and a concentration in Jewish studies” and “was affiliated with Hillel, was a member of J Street, and worked on campus with the World Zionist Organization.” The article also noted that the woman “was one of nine Jewish protesters arrested at a protest in New York City against Israel’s war with Hamas in 2014, and was barred from entering Israel from the West Bank soon after.”
“I completely deny the charge, there was absolutely no coercion in our encounter,” an Israeli official told the paper on Keyes’s behalf.
According to Salazar, in 2017, a New York Times reporter reached out to her, citing a wave of allegations against “powerful men” in Jerusalem. She told Jezebel she agreed to speak on background, but did not go on the record. The Times reporter who Salazar told Jezebel was working on that story did not respond for comment.
“I obviously never planned to speak about this publicly on the record at all,” Salazar said, adding that survivors of sexual assault are “doubted or disregarded.”
“Our integrity is attacked. We receive negative attention,” she said. She fears that the allegations, if used by critics to attack her credibility, might deter other sexual assault survivors from coming forward.
“I think that it’s really sad that this could dissuade other women, other survivors of sexual assault in general, from speaking out,” she said, or from running for office out of fear that their experiences with sexual assault “will be used against them.”