Haaretz reporters Aaron Rabinowitz and Shira Elk received the Israel Press Institute’s annual award for excellence in journalism in a ceremony on Monday for their investigation of allegations of sexual assault by Zaka emergency medical service chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav.
The investigation, published in March of last year, included the accounts of numerous people in the ultra-Orthodox community who said that Meshi-Zahav had assaulted and sexually exploited them as children and adults. At Monday’s ceremony, the chairwoman of the award committee, retired Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, said that the expose could help curb such serious offenses in the ultra-Orthodox community.
In a video message, Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke of Haaretz’s “important investigation, which shed light on a frightful phenomenon and removed a years-long conspiracy of silence.”
Rabinowitz told the assembled crowd that although he and Elk and the others involved in the investigation had “paid a very, very stiff price, mainly an emotional one, it was all worth it, primarily for the victims whom we met all along the way, the dozens or perhaps hundreds of victims in the ultra-Orthodox community who sat and read the exposes and derived strength. They understood that they are not alone in the world.”
“It was worth any price, from nightmares to going underneath a car to make sure there was no explosive device there, and all kinds of crazy things that we experienced,” Rabinowitz added. “It was worth it for the social activists, the pioneers who over the past several years have worked on this issue of sexual assault. They did the work ahead of us.”
For her part, Elk also made reference to a Haaretz investigation last year of ultra-Orthodox author Chaim Walder, who was accused of sexual abuse by several women who said they were minors at the time of the alleged abuse. Walder committed suicide at the end of the year. Meshi-Zahav also attempted suicide following the reporting and has since been hospitalized.
“This very moment corresponds with the girl who I was. I did it for one boy who will be able to find tranquility or a girl who will be able to go for treatment. I thank the victims for putting their trust in me,” Elk said.
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The Haaretz reporting on Meshi-Zahav featured allegations of sexual assault and exploitation dating back to the 1980s. Ten victims who spoke to Haaretz said that he exploited his position and status, his money and the organization in his actions. According to the reporting in Haaretz, many people were aware of Meshi-Zahav’s acts but did not report them. After the investigation was published others came forward with similar allegations.
Prior to the publication it was announced that Meshi-Zahav would be awarded the country’s most prestigious state award, the Israel Prize. Following the reporting, he announced that he would forgo the prize and suspended himself from involvement in Zaka.