ZAKA founder and Israel Prize winner Yehuda Meshi Zahav has been accused of sexually assaulting women and children over many years following an investigation and first-hand testimony from survivors published in Haaretz on Thursday.
Multiple people of different ages came forward to recall their abusive experiences with Meshi Zahav over the years, who according to the report was investigated by police in 2011 on sexual assault accusations, but which was closed due to a lack of evidence.
One woman recalled that Meshi Zahav offered her financial assistance to ameliorate her economic situation, later forcing himself on her and threatening her life by saying one of his ZAKA vans will run her over if she revealed the assault.
Police allegedly approached the woman on the matter in 2013 but refused to file a complaint against Meshi Zahav.
The Haaretz investigation also revealed that many people from the ultra-Orthodox communities of Jerusalem were aware of Meshi Zahav’s activities, but never reported them to the police.
Further testimonies revealed that Meshi Zahav allegedly boasted about his past sexual experiences over numerous decades, apparently using his influential position to assault teenagers and younger children over the course of many years.
Another testimony provided by a younger man, who was allegedly sexually assaulted at age 16 by Meshi Zahav, described how the latter would treat him like a prostitute.
“There was a storeroom at a school in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood. I got a key from Yehuda and watched television there. Yehuda would arrive and do with me as he pleased,” the young man said.
“From time to time he took me to apartments in Tel Aviv where we would meet with prostitutes. I was with one while he was with another,” he added.
Describing the pain he experienced in a Facebook Message to Meshi Zahav, the young man said that “Even today, over 20 years later, I’m licking my wounds. You left me hurt and bleeding, and you’re continuing with your life as if nothing happened. Only now, when I’m the father of children at the age at which you abused me, do I understand the significance.”
The message was read and apparently ignored by Meshi Zahav.
Another testimony by a 26-year-old man recalled how Meshi Zahav would sexually assault him in a synagogue when he was 5-years-old.
Meshi Zahav responded to the allegations made in the Haaretz investigation by claiming he is being targeted.
“Ever since it became known that I had won the Israel Prize, I have been the focus of various telephone threats. After my parents passed away, some called me to express joy at their deaths. Others spat at me as I walked down the street. Unfortunately, this is part of the price I pay for the path I chose. Publishing the article is an attempt to ‘settle the score’ with me,” he said.
“For as long as my strength permits me, I will continue to serve the people of Israel and the State of Israel as I have done all my life,” Meshi Zahav added.