Israeli police have launched an investigation into sexual assault and rape allegations against the former chairman of Israel’s renowned Zaka International Rescue Service, local media have reported.
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav is a prominent figure in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and was viewed widely as a bridge between Israel’s religious and secular Jews.
Meshi-Zahav announced on Friday that he was “taking a time out” from his role in the organisation and giving up the Israel Prize, which he had been set to receive this year. He made the announcement after Haaretz said that it had interviewed six accusers and obtained evidence of sexual assault and exploitation going back decades. The allegations include abuse of teenagers and younger children.
Of the six allegations reported by Haaretz, the earliest is from 1983, with the latest from 2011. The report added that many residents of several Ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods in Jerusalem knew of Meshi-Zahav’s actions but did not say anything or report him to the authorities.
One victim claimed that Meshi-Zahav abused him repeatedly when he was a teen. He only realised years later that he was the elder man’s “escort, a prostitute in the full sense of the word,” he told Haaretz.
Shana Aaronson, director-general of Magen, told Army Radio on Sunday that the non-profit organisation that works to support survivors of sexual abuse first heard rumours about Meshi-Zahav a few years ago. “[But] there was no one who was prepared to speak about what happened. Just a few months ago we began to get specific testimonies.”
Meshi-Zahav has denied the allegations, but more accusers came forward yesterday with allegations that they had been abused by him. One man, identified only by the initial “D”, told Israel’s Channel 13 that he was abused by Meshi-Zahav for three years beginning when he was 11 years old. Now in his mid-20s, he said that he had been assaulted “dozens, if not hundreds” of times and that it was well known that there were other victims.