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Top Netanyahu aide takes leave of absence after sexual assault allegations

Netanyahu's foreign media spokesman David Keyes calls accusations of sexual misconduct 'false and misleading'
Netanyahu listens to spokesman David Keyes at cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on 23 July (AP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman announced on Thursday that he is taking a leave of absence "to clear my name" amid a series of sexual misconduct allegations against him.

US-born David Keyes, 34, has been Netanyahu's spokesman to international media since 2016.

"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," Keyes said in a statement.

"I am fully confident that the truth will come out," he added.

In recent days, Keyes made statements in the Israeli media denying accusations of sexual assault posted online by a woman from his native United States.

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

Julia Salazar, a candidate for New York's state senate, accuses Keyes of sexually assaulting her five years ago.

Salazar has received criticism in the course of her campaign over inconsistencies in details about other parts of her life that she has shared.

After Salazar's accusation, The Times of Israel news site reported on Thursday that 12 other women had also accused Keyes, 34, of inappropriate behaviour.

Ten of the women spoke to the news site on condition of anonymity. Wall Street Journal reporter Shayndi Raice went public with accusations against Keyes on Friday, calling him a "predator".

"The man had absolutely no conception of the word 'no'," Raice said 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."

The women's accusations date back to before Keyes took up his job in Netanyahu's office in 2016.

Netanyahu's office hasn't commented on the matter, according to the Associated Press.

Keyes 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.

Before joining Netanyahu's office, Keyes was executive director of New York-based Advancing Human Rights, an NGO which sought to assist dissidents in oppressive countries.