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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/18/16

Appointment of Israeli spokesman viewed as snub to US

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Reprinted from AlJazeera

Despite his controversial past, David Keyes is taking over as Netanyahu's foreign media adviser and spokesman.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
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Jerusalem -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the appointment of a new foreign media adviser and spokesman this week, the latest in a series of moves viewed as snubs to the Obama White House.

US-born David Keyes replaces Mark Regev, who became familiar to English-language audiences as the voice of the Netanyahu government during Israel's repeated attacks on Gaza. Regev will be Israel's new ambassador to the UK.

Keyes, aged 32, has been plucked from his current position as executive director of Advancing Human Rights, a New York-based lobby group he founded in 2010. He also heads a web operation known as Cyberdissidents, which claims to connect political dissidents around the world.

Keyes took Israeli citizenship nearly a decade ago, and then served as a spokesperson in the Israeli army. Netanyahu's office said Keyes would start in his new role "very soon." Rumors of the appointment had been circulating since January.

Keyes steps in as Netanyahu's foreign media adviser at a time when Israeli officials have been accused of conducting a "witch hunt" against both the foreign press corps in Israel and Israeli social media activists.

Palestinian human rights groups, meanwhile, have highlighted Keyes's failure, despite styling himself a supporter of human rights activism, to challenge Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights. Thousands of Palestinians are in Israeli jails, including hundreds being held on secret charges.

His appointment is also likely to heighten tensions with Washington, given his high-profile campaigning to undermine the White House's foreign policy efforts to end a long-running standoff with Iran.

Keyes is best-known for a series of publicity stunts he staged in 2014 in Vienna, during key negotiations between Washington and Iran over the latter's nuclear energy program.

He published videos of himself admonishing -- or what he called "punking" -- Iranian diplomats in the streets of the Austrian capital over Tehran's human rights record. He also held a mock press conference denouncing Iran in a hotel lobby, next to someone dressed in an ayatollah outfit.

Last July, as the White House prepared to sign an agreement with Iran, Keyes published an article on the Daily Beast website in which he declared his goal had been to "cause as much trouble as possible" for the negotiators.

Netanyahu was a vocal opponent of the talks, and controversially bypassed the White House to speak directly to the US Congress last spring in a last-ditch attempt to pressure legislators to scupper the deal. An agreement was signed a short time later.

Many of the online videos of Keyes's stunts have been taken down over the past two months, in an indication of apparent concern by Israel that his appointment might be viewed adversely by the White House.

Yossi Alper, a former adviser to Ehud Barak, one of Netanyahu's predecessors, said Israeli moves such as Keyes's appointment were now a staple feature of US-Israeli relations mired in "permanent crisis."

"Netanyahu appears confident that he can weather any storm with Obama," Alper told Al Jazeera. "The view seems to be that there is only so much more damage that can be done in the remaining nine months of this presidency."

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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