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Israel paramedic group founder mired in sex abuse scandal dies
29 June 2022, 09:44
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav was a prominent member of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community who founded a volunteer paramedic service.
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, a prominent member of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community who founded a volunteer paramedic service before his reputation came crashing down in a series of sexual abuse allegations, has died at the age of 62.
Mr Meshi-Zahav was admitted to hospital last year following a suicide attempt as accusers came forward to allege years of sexual abuse after he was awarded the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement, the country’s highest civilian honour.
Jerusalem’s Herzog Medical Centre confirmed his death on Wednesday, but did not give a cause.
For decades, Mr Meshi-Zahav was one of Israel’s most recognisable faces, widely respected for founding an ultra-Orthodox rescue service that bridged the divide between religious and secular Israelis and cared for the victims of Palestinian attacks.
He formed Zaka in 1995, six years after he provided first aid to victims of a deadly Palestinian bus attack that killed 16 people near Jerusalem.
His organisation’s volunteers helped identify the victims of disasters and suicide bombings and collect their remains for a Jewish burial. The group expanded to include first response paramedics and broad recognition in Israel.
But after the announcement in March 2021 that he was to receive the Israel Prize, his accusers came forward, saying he had committed horrendous acts of sexual abuse of men, women and children over several decades, and that the ultra-Orthodox community shielded him with a wall of silence.
Mr Meshi-Zahav denied the allegations, stepped down as head of Zaka, and turned down the Israel Prize in the midst of a widening scandal.
The organisation he founded expressed “shock and astonishment”, saying the allegations against him “arouse deep abhorrence, shock and disgust, light years away from the values that characterise the organisation”.
A month later he reportedly attempted suicide in his Jerusalem apartment and was admitted to hospital, where he remained until his death on Wednesday. Israeli media reported at the time that he had tried to hang himself.