First Official Complaint of Sexual Abuse Filed Against Disgraced Zaka Founder

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

The first official complaint for attempted rape and sexual exploitation against Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the founder of the Zaka Search and Rescue Organization, was filed Wednesday, following a report published in Haaretz last week.

One of Meshi-Zahav's alleged victims came to police Wednesday and testified that Meshi-Zahav had attempted to rape him when he was 14-years-old and had sexually exploited him. In recent days, police investigators have approached additional alleged victims, some of whom had purportedly been abused years ago, when they were minors.

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

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The police announced on Sunday 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 on Thursday. On Friday, in the wake of the report and the police's announcement that they had opened a probe into the claims against him, Meshi-Zahav announced that he will be relinquishing his prize and stepping down from his role at the organization.

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav arrived on Monday, 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.

"My client, as a believer in his innocence, initiated the unusual move and presented himself for questioning to Lahav. He has nothing to hide," said Meshi-Zahav's defense attorney, Ephraim Damari, of his client's decision to show up at Lahav 433 unannounced.

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. 

Investigators are expected to speak to the women who testified in the 2013 case, and will be checking whether the women have new information regarding Meshi-Zahav's conduct at the time. 

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 to the ages, gender or matial 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."

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