Netanyahu taps Internet freedom activist known for pranking Iranian officials as new spokesperson

on 14 Comments

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will reportedly have a new English-language spokesperson in March: David Keyes, who has made a name for himself as an Internet freedom advocate. The Jerusalem Post first reported the news last week, though the prime minister’s office has not publicly confirmed the appointment. Other Israeli news outlets have also reported he would become the new spokesman.

Keyes is the executive director of a group called Advancing Human Rights, and runs, a database of Internet dissidents. Now Keyes, who has long-standing ties to the Israeli elite, is going to work for a man whose security forces have locked up dozens of Palestinian activists for social media posts in recent years, in addition to the thousands of Palestinian prisoners in jail on other charges. He has not criticized Israel for those arrests. Keyes is an advocate for human rights — except for Palestinians.

What’s more, Keyes has used activists’ names on without their permission. In police states, that kind of database could put people in danger.

Keyes is set to replace Mark Regev, the long-time English-language spokesman for Netanyahu. According to Haaretz, Keyes is “very close to some of Netanyahu’s associates, foremost among them Israel’s envoy to Washington, Ron Dermer, who recommended that the premier appoint Keyes.” Keyes used to work under famed Soviet dissident and now Israeli official Natan Sharansky at the Sheldon Adelson-funded Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies, where he first set up the Cyber Dissidents project. He also worked under close Netanyahu advisor Dore Gold at the conservative Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is also a contributor to The Daily Beast, and has made headlines when confronting Iranian officials in public pranks about human rights abuses in the country.

Keyes’ was folded into a project of Advancing Human Rights, created in 2010 by Keyes and Robert Bernstein, a former chairman and the founder of Human Rights Watch who criticized the group because, he said, the human rights group focused too much on Israel and other democratic societies’ human rights record. Advancing Human Rights has been given cash by a number of well-known foundations like the Newton and Rochelle Becker Foundation, which has come under heavy criticism for funding anti-Muslim groups. In 2012, Advancing Human Rights joined forces with, a platform for “crowdsourcing human rights.” was founded by Jared Cohen, famous for being the director of Google Ideas and a former State Department official. has been criticized for publicizing the names and faces of Arab dissidents who work in repressive societies without their approval. Jillian York, a well-known writer and advocate on Internet freedom who first met Keyes in 2010 at a Google conference in Budapest, said he “used that conference to find more people to put on his website,, and did so without permission.” One of those people, York said, was Alaa Abdel Fatah, the Egyptian blogger now imprisoned by government run by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has overseen a brutal campaign of repression in the country targeting human rights activists. Fatah asked Keyes to take down his name from the site, and after threatening a lawsuit, Keyes complied, according to York. Issandr El-Amrani, founder of the Arabist blog, is another person who said his name was used on the site without permission.

York also said that Keyes “would lie to people and tell them he wasn’t Israeli” in a bid to win Arab dissidents over.

Keyes did not return a request for comment on this story.

Keyes touts himself as a promoter of democracy, a person who wants to use the Internet to leverage the power of dissent. He has repeatedly criticized the Palestinian Authority and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for political repression. But on the board of is Saad al-Din Ibrahim, a prominent Egyptian liberal jailed under Mubarak who has been a staunch supporter of Sisi, even after his regime launched a brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that resulted in thousands of arrests and deaths. In recent weeks, Sisi’s regime has arrested administrators of Facebook pages calling for protests against the government.

And he is now reportedly set to take a paycheck from the Israeli government as Netanyahu’s new English spokesperson. Israeli security forces under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have cracked down hard on Palestinian dissent voiced online. Dozens of Palestinians, most of them in Israel proper and in Jerusalem, have been arrested for Facebook posts for violating Israel’s law against incitement to violence, which the government has interpreted broadly. All branches of Israeli intelligence closely monitor social media sites, frequently using it to target dissenters.

14 Responses

  1. Philip Weiss
    January 25, 2016, 11:34 am

    Excellent report, Alex; and it strikes me as further evidence of a political consolidation between some liberal Zionists and Netanyahu Likud Zionists. As the larger discourse begins to polarize, there is less and less middle ground. You are either delegitimizing the idea of a Jewish state, or working to preserve its legitimacy in international forums.

    • hophmi
      January 25, 2016, 12:53 pm

      Alex could point out that has helped many dissidents in repressive states escape persecution.

      He could also point out that punking Iranian diplomats about political prisoners is, you know, an honorable thing for anyone who actually cares about human rights in that country or anywhere else, and that this site, which promotes the punking Max Blumenthal does of drunk college students, should appreciate Keyes’ work.

      • Annie Robbins
        January 25, 2016, 1:02 pm

        has helped many dissidents in repressive states escape persecution.


      • Annie Robbins
        January 25, 2016, 2:17 pm


      • a blah chick
        January 25, 2016, 2:22 pm

        I found this about him on the Gatestone website:

        David Keyes
        Director, and Coordinator of Democracy Programs at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies

        David Keyes is the Director of and Coordinator for Democracy Programs at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies. Under his mentor Natan Sharansky, Keyes became a founding member of He assisted a former UN ambassador and has written for leading publications including The New Republic, National Review, Commentary and The Jerusalem Post. Keyes graduated with honors from UCLA in Middle Eastern Studies and pursued a Masters in Diplomacy at Tel Aviv University. He served in the Strategic Division of the Israeli army and speaks Arabic, Hebrew and English.

        Yep, he’s quite a record with “human rights,” doesn’t he?

        If you haven’t been to the Gatestone Institute’s website here’s just a sample of the kinds of stories they cover.

        Sweden’s Afghan “Rapefugees”
        by Ingrid Carlqvist

        Palestinians: Western Media’s Ignorance and Bias
        by Khaled Abu Toameh

        Islam and Islamism in America in 2015: Part I
        by Soeren Kern

        The Islamization of France in 2015
        by Soeren Kern

        Sweden: Rape Capital of the West
        by Ingrid Carlqvist and Lars Hedegaard

        Germany: Migrants’ Rape Epidemic
        by Soeren Kern

        Ye shall know them by the company they keep.

      • Keith
        January 25, 2016, 4:14 pm

        HOPHMI- “Alex could point out that has helped many dissidents in repressive states escape persecution.”

        Exactly which “repressive states” has targeted?

        HOPHMI- “He could also point out that punking Iranian diplomats about political prisoners is, you know, an honorable thing for anyone who actually cares about human rights….”

        It must be nice to have the resources to do this sort of thing. When it comes to human rights abuse, US/Israel live in glass houses and shouldn’t get away with throwing stones. In view of the endless detentions without charge of Palestinians by Israel, including children, along with the repetitive “mowing the grass” in Gaza, Israel is easily one of the worst abusers of human rights in the world. Period. As for the empire itself, its crimes are too well known to require listing. Who is in defiance of more UN resolutions, Iran or Israel? Who had nuclear weapons, Iran or Israel? Who is using the internet as a soft power tool for destabilizing targeted countries, Iran or US/Israel? Your professed concern for human rights is obviously phony. Show some concern for lifting the siege of Gaza instead.

      • hophmi
        January 26, 2016, 10:59 am


        Is that a serious question? Are you incapable of using the internet? This isn’t some fly-by-night organization. It’s a major NGO.

        link to

        “Exactly which “repressive states” has targeted?”

        Why don’t you get on the website and check it out? I assume you have an internet connection. Take some time off from the conspiracy theory websites you clearly frequent and look it up.

      • Keith
        January 26, 2016, 2:14 pm

        HOPHMI- “Take some time off from the conspiracy theory websites you clearly frequent and look it up.”

        What “conspiracy theory websites?”

        By the way, you will be pleased to know that yet another Holocaust movie has been released. “Son of Saul” really gets into the horrors of the camps, lest we forget. Wouldn’t want that, would we? One reviewer said it was targeted to those who thought “Schindler’s List” was too uplifting. Of course, you are the guy that argued that Schindler’s List was about some Gentile, the Holocaust only referenced in passing.

        And if that isn’t enough to make a Holocaust Religion zealot such as you jump for joy, how about this. Seattle Children’s Theatre is performing “Hanah’s Suitcase,” about guess what? You got it. A new children’s play based upon a children’s book about a Holocaust victim. The book was written in 2002 as part of the ongoing indoctrination program of you Zionists to exploit the Holocaust shamelessly. The project began at the Holocaust Education Centre in Tokyo (TOKYO, for Godsake) and is promoted by the usual suspects while picking up some corporate sponsorship along the way (Microsoft, for one). Ongoing and increasing Holocaust movies, children’s plays, mandatory education including trips, museums, new laws equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. What’s next? Holocaust action figures? The Zionist Holocaust exploitation juggernaut moves relentlessly on.

      • Keith
        January 27, 2016, 3:40 pm

        HOPHMI- “Take some time off from the conspiracy theory websites you clearly frequent and look it up.”

        Well, guess what? I just logged on to one of my “conspiracy theory websites” (CounterPunch) and was surprised to learn that today (January 27) is the official UN “Holocaust Memorial Day” established in 2005 (60 years after the Holocaust). I’m sure you are thrilled at the prospect of wagging your finger at every Gentile you meet and demanding atonement (support for Israel and Zionism). As if this wasn’t good enough, I then discovered that you will have double pleasure because the US Holocaust Remembrance Days occur in May. Eight days, bubala. Enjoy! From Wikipedia:

        “8-day period, from the Sunday before Yom Hashoah to the Sunday after Yom Hashoah….Established by Congress as the period for remembrance programs and ceremonies, with the participation of States, Cities, and military ships and stations. The annual National Civic Commemoration is held in the Capitol Rotunda. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum provides support materials linked to an annual theme. The Department of Defense produced a resource guide for military programs.”

      • jilliancyork
        January 27, 2016, 4:26 pm

        Actually, Hophmi, the question of who has helped is a really valid one. You claim it’s a “major organization” but have shown no evidence. Let me help: In 2014 (the last year for which its taxes are public) had an annual budget of about $300,000, which is tiny by any standard. The whole budget of Advancing Human Rights (AHR) for that year was about $1 million (though less than half of it seems to have been spent).

        All does is serve as an Airbnb of sorts for well-meaning westerners and whatever activists out there think it’s a good idea to use a relatively insecure website to find those folks.

        Frankly, the whole thing kind of reeks of being an empty shell for careerist David Keyes to me.

      • Annie Robbins
        January 29, 2016, 9:56 am


        Is that a serious question? Are you incapable of using the internet? This isn’t some fly-by-night organization. It’s a major NGO.

        so that would be a NO, you can not name even ONE dissident in a repressive state this so called “” (that appears to be a ‘movement’ in name only) has helped escape prosecution.

        got it.

  2. Keith
    January 25, 2016, 4:35 pm

    “ was founded by Jared Cohen, famous for being the director of Google Ideas and a former State Department official.”

    Few people seem to realize just how powerful Google is and just how significant the internet has become as a soft power tool of empire. The ability of Google, the US State department, and the CIA to obtain data on the citizenry of a foreign country, to identify, recruit and fund dissidents, and, using the social media and marketing techniques, to electronically organize segments of a foreign polity to serve imperial designs is unprecedented and constitutes a new weapon of awesome soft power. Along with electronic financial power, these techniques have totally altered foreign relations. When some of these imperial NGOs talk about internet freedom they are really advocating unrestrained electronic penetration and control. The internet isn’t free, it is owned.

    • Boomer
      January 25, 2016, 7:06 pm

      Julian Assange would certainly agree:

      “But Assange now claims that the meeting is proof that the U.S. State Department uses Google, and Eric Schmidt personally, to do “things the CIA cannot do” in areas like Iran and Azerbaijan.”

      link to

      • Keith
        January 26, 2016, 12:29 am

        BOOMER- “Julian Assange would certainly agree….”

        Indeed, he would! And I heartily recommend “When Google Met WikiLeaks,” by Julian Assange.

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