Yehuda Meshi-Zahav: Israel medic group founder mired in sex abuse scandal dies aged 62

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav: Israel medic group founder mired in sex abuse scandal dies aged 62
2 min read
After the announcement in March 2021 that Yehuda Meshi-Zahav would receive the Israel Prize, accusers came forward, saying he committed horrendous acts of sexual abuse of men, women and children over several decades.
No cause was given Yehuda Meshi-Zahav's (front) death by the Herzog Medical Center [Getty-archive]

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, a prominent member of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community who founded a volunteer paramedic service before his reputation came crashing down in a series of sexual abuse allegations, has died aged 62.

Meshi-Zahav was hospitalised last year after attempting suicide as accusers stepped forward alleging years of sexual abuse after he was awarded the Israel Prize for Lifetime Achievement, the country's highest civilian honour.

The Herzog Medical Center in Jerusalem confirmed his death on Wednesday, but did not give a cause.

For decades, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav was one of Israel's most recognisable faces, after he founded ultra-Orthodox rescue service ZAKA in 1995.

His organisation's volunteers helped identify the victims of disasters and suicide bombings and collect their remains for Jewish burial.

The group expanded to include first response paramedics and gained broad recognition in Israel.

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But after the announcement in March 2021 that he would receive the Israel Prize, his accusers came forward, saying Meshi-Zahav 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.

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 Meshi-Zahav "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 hospitalised until his death on Wednesday. Israeli media reported at the time that he had tried to hang himself.