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‘People are embarrassed to drive around in ZAKA vehicles’

Allegations of sexual misconduct, including claims of rape, made against the chief of ZAKA have sent shockwaves through the search and rescue organization, a senior ZAKA official said, and has made it difficult for volunteers in the group to operate.

Speaking with Israel Hayom in an interview published Wednesday morning, a top ZAKA official distanced his organization from Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the organization’s chairman who recently announced he would be stepping aside temporarily amid accusations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault against a multiple victims, including men, women, and minors, going back as far as the 1980s.

While Meshi-Zahav has often been credited as one of the co-founders of ZAKA, the senior official who spoke with Israel Hayom downplayed Meshi-Zahav’s role.

“Yehuda was very charismatic, and was thus able to take control of everything. When the organization was founded, Yehuda wasn’t even a part of it. He joined in afterwards, and then managed to surge to where he ended up getting to.”

“There were other people who were much more God-fearing, more serious than him, but he was charismatic and media-savvy and knew how to get himself in the spotlight and to turn himself into a public idol.”

The ZAKA official said that there had always been suspicions regarding Meshi-Zahav, but added that the rape allegations came as a surprise to the organization.

“We always knew and saw that he hangs around women, and we suspected him of being a real pervert. But we never thought that he was a rapist or a pedophile. In hindsight it explains a lot of things we saw over the years.”

He went on to condemn Meshi-Zahav, adding that he feels the revelations have utterly destroyed Meshi-Zahav’s legacy with ZAKA.

The allegations have impacted ZAKA’s operations, the official continued, saying that volunteers with the organization have been demoralized and are often embarrassed to be associated with the group.

Earlier this month, Haaretz published an investigative report revealing that at least six people, including men and women, have accused Meshi-Zahav of sexual misconduct or rape, including several who were minors at the time of the alleged incidents.

Meshi-Zahav denied the allegations, but said that he would waive the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement, which he was set to be awarded.

In addition, Meshi-Zahav announced that he would be temporarily leaving his position at the helm of ZAKA.

Police have opened a criminal investigation into the matter, and at least one criminal complaint has been filed thus far.

Source: Arutz Sheva