Disgraced Zaka Founder Meshi-Zahav in Critical Condition After Suicide Attempt

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav was found unconscious at his home and evacuated to the hospital in critical condition; In March, a Haaretz investigation revealed dozens of accusations of sexual assault against him

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Meshi-Zahav, last week
Yehuda Meshi-ZahavCredit: Gil Cohen-Magen

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the disgraced founder of the Zaka Search and Rescue Organization who is under investigation for multiple sexual offenses, attempted to take his own life in the early hours of Thursday and was subsequently resuscitated by emergency services.

An investigative report about the accusations against Meshi-Zahav was set to air later on Thursday on Israeli Channel 12.

His family called emergency services after finding him unconscious in their home in the West Bank town of Givat Ze'ev. After half an hour of CPR, he was evacuated to the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem in critical condition.

The director of Shaare Zedek, Prof. Ofer Merin, said that Meshi-Zahav in the intensive care unit, and while resuscitation efforts managed to restore his pulse, he is still in critical condition. "We assume that he suffered damage. We cannot yet estimate how much. I don't think we will be able to assess his true condition for several hours," Merin said. "Right now, our main concern is stabilizing him in order to put him out of immediate danger," he added.

A forensics team who arrived at the scene stated that no foul play is suspected.

His close friend and neighbour, Rabbi Aharon Boymil, the leader of the Shuvu Banim Yeshiva in Jerusalem and the Admor of Berdichev, said that Meshi-Zahav was not afraid of death. "The day the whole story came out we were scared he would commit suicide," he said.

When he was asked about how Meshi-Zahav responded to the testimonies, he said that "he did not deny everything."

>> Haaretz investigation: Israel Prize winner, Zaka founder sexually assaulted boys, girls and women

Oshrat Dayan Moalem, a paramedic from United Hatzalah, a volunteer emergency service, said she arrived at the family's home with two other paramedics. "I went upstairs to the balcony, I saw what I saw, it shocked me," she said. "Then I went to his wife, and I sat with her," she added.

In March, police announced that they will open a formal investigation into Meshi-Zahav, following accusations of sexual assault and exploitation of women, men, and children revealed in a Haaretz report.

Zaka founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav at the Knesset in 2009Credit: Emil Salman / JINI

The police are still gathering testimonies for the investigation, but he has yet to be summoned for the investigation.

A series of further accusations of rape and sexual exploitation against Yehuda Meshi-Zahav consequently surfaced, and the first official complaints were then filed against him in March.

Following the allegations, Meshi-Zahav announced that he will be relinquishing the Israel Prize, which he was set to be awarded, and stepping down from his role at Zaka.

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav arrived, on his own initiative, at the Israel Police's Lahav 433 unit tasked with investigating the Zaka rescue organization founder for alleged sexual offenses, to provide his side of the story and was subsequently turned away. The officer told him that his version could not be heard at this time because he has not yet been summoned to an interrogation or to give testimony.

The Lahav 433 unit, currently carrying out the formal investigation of Meshi-Zahav carried out another investigation against Meshi-Zahav in 2013 following similar allegations, but the case was closed due to lack of evidence. 

The investigation published in Haaretz provided evidence of assault and sexual exploitation by Meshi-Zahav going back to the 1980s. Six accusers told Haaretz that Meshi-Zahav took advantage of his status, power, money and even the organization he heads to assault  teenagers and younger children, both boys and girls, without regard for the age, gender or marital status of his victims. According to the investigation, many around Meshi-Zahav reportedly knew about his actions, but did not tell anyone or report him to the police.

Meshi-Zahav denied all allegations brought against him in a lengthy response to Haaretz's request for comment ahead of the publication of the investigation. "Publication of this article is an attempt to settle accounts with me and, regrettably, to destroy me as well."

Meshi-Zahav founded Zaka (the name is a Hebrew acronym for “disaster victims' identification”) in 1989. The organization has thousands of volunteers throughout the country.

Zaka searches for and rescues missing people on land and sea; tends to victims of terror attacks, accidents and disasters; and gathers human remains from the scenes of terror attacks to assure proper identification and burial. The organization has become a crucial element in the country’s emergency response operations, both in Israel and abroad.

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