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Meshi-Zahav will claim all relations consensual in sex crimes case, report says

ZAKA founder, accused of serial sexual abuse, previously denied all claims outright; reports say first official police complaint expected to be filed on Wednesday

Yehuda Meshi Zahav speaks at a conference in Jerusalem, March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yehuda Meshi Zahav speaks at a conference in Jerusalem, March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The founder of the ZAKA emergency services organization, accused of multiple cases of sexual abuse, will defend himself by claiming that all sexual relations were consensual, a Channel 12 reported Tuesday.

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav had previously denied the claims outright.

Meshi-Zahav was accused last week of sexual assault, rape, and abuse by six people in a report by the Haaretz daily, which said there are likely many more cases.

More alleged victims have come forward since the bombshell investigation was released, as well as reports that Meshi-Zahav’s alleged crimes were widely known in some parts of the ultra-Orthodox community.

Channel 12, citing unnamed associates of Meshi-Zahav, said he will at most say relations were in exchange for money, gifts or other benefits.

Meshi-Zahav hopes to evade conviction for more serious alleged offenses, including rape, with the defense, the report said. It was not clear how the defense would apply to alleged offenses against minors.

Multiple reports on Tuesday said that the first official police complaint against Meshi-Zahav was expected to be filed on Wednesday. The complainant was a minor at the time of the alleged offense, but it’s not clear if it happened within the statute of limitations and would therefore be a chargeable offense.

Police have yet to receive an official police complaint against Meshi-Zahav that can be used against him in court.

Police began examining the accusations of sexual assault and abuse against Meshi-Zahav on Sunday, and will have to find a viable case within the statute of limitations. Police will focus on searching for complainants from the past decade, as cases beyond that time period are considered “cold cases,” Channel 12 reported.

In this Jan. 5, 2005 file photo, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, head of Israel’s renowned ZAKA rescue service, arrives at the Yan Yao Buddhist temple in Takuapa, Thailand (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

Meshi-Zahav is a prominent figure in the ultra-Orthodox community, with ZAKA a major part of Israel’s emergency response services at home and abroad.

The allegations against Meshi-Zahav have been made by both men and women, some of whom were minors at the time of the alleged events.

A Monday report said police suspect public figures in the ultra-Orthodox community and some ZAKA officials knew about Meshi-Zahav’s alleged misdeeds and decided to keep quiet about the affair. Senior officials from ZAKA were expected to be questioned in the coming days, the report said.

Meshi-Zahav showed up uninvited to the police’s Lahav 433 serious crime unit on Monday in what Dimri said was an attempt to clear his name and confront the evidence against him.

Officers at the unit refused to take testimony from him, as he had yet to be summoned for questioning.

Channel 13 cited senior law enforcement officials who called Meshi-Zahav’s appearance at the police station a “publicity stunt.”

Hebrew media reported that police managed to make contact with one of Meshi-Zahav’s alleged victims who is believed to be within the statute of limitations. The woman is believed to have confided to reporters under the condition of anonymity that the ZAKA founder raped her several years ago, but she turned down the police request to file a complaint.

Some victims are likely afraid to come forward given Meshi-Zahav’s prominent stature in the ultra-Orthodox community and long-held ties with law enforcement.

Illustrative: A ZAKA team responds to an accident in Petah Tikva, October 26, 2015. (Ilan Malca/ZAKA)

The original Haaretz report said Meshi-Zahav took advantage of his status, power, money, and even the organization he heads to commit sexual assault on multiple occasions.

Meshi-Zahav denied the allegations, telling Haaretz that the claims “are baseless” and will cause “irrevocable damage” to his good name.

Of the six allegations reported in the story, the earliest is from 1983, and the latest from 2011. The report added that many residents of several ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem knew of Meshi-Zahav’s actions, but did not say anything or report him to authorities.

Earlier this month, Meshi-Zahav was declared a winner of the Israel Prize’s lifetime achievement award for his contributions to Israeli society.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant announced that the prize would go to Meshi-Zahav for his decades of work in ZAKA. In 2003, he lit a torch at Israel’s national Independence Day celebrations.

On Friday, Meshi-Zahav announced that he was stepping down from his role in ZAKA and also giving up the prestigious Israel Prize.

He was a vocal critic of some of the ultra-Orthodox leadership during the pandemic, as some prominent community figures downplayed the virus, including in an October interview with The Times of Israel.

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