Israeli NGO leader in 'suicide attempt' hours before sexual abuse investigation airs

Israeli NGO leader in 'suicide attempt' hours before sexual abuse investigation airs
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, who has been accused of multiple sexual crimes, was discovered unconscious at his home in the West Bank after attempting to kill himself.
3 min read
22 April, 2021
Yehuda Meshi Zahav handed back his Israel Prize after the allegations [Getty]

The founder of the Zaka Search and Rescue Organization was rushed to hospital after allegedly attempting to commit suicide, where he is reported to be in a critical condition. 

Meshi-Zahav was discovered just hours before an investigation into the allegations of sexual assault were due to air on Israeli Channel 12

The 59-year-old, who was awarded the Israel Prize this year, has been accused of using his position as a relief worker to sexually assault and exploit numerous men, women, and children.

Paramedics were called to Meshi-Zahav’s house in the West Bank town of Givat Ze'ev after his unconscious body was found by family members.

Medics performed CPR at the scene before transferring him to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Doctors manage to restore his pulse but warned that his condition remains critical. 

"We assume that he suffered damage. We cannot yet estimate how much. I don't think we will be able to assess his true condition for several hours. Right now, our main concern is stabilising him in order to put him out of immediate danger," Prof. Ofer Merin, the director of Shaare Zedek told Haaretz.

Upon inspection of Meshi-Zahav's home, police said that no foul play is suspected and the Kan public broadcaster reported that a suicide note was discovered. 

Haaretz reported that his close friend and neighbour, Rabbi Aharon Boymil, was concerned that Meshi-Zahav might attempt suicide.

"The day the whole story came out we were scared he would commit suicide," he told Haaretz.

In March, an investigation by Haaretz gathered testimonies from numerous individuals who accused Meshi-Zahav of sexually abusing them, exploiting his position for sexual favours, and threatening those he assaulted into silence.

Men, women, and children provided testimonies for the investigation. Men described in graphic detail how Meshi-Zahav allegedly groomed and assaulted them. Many also claimed that the local community was fully aware of Meshi-Zahav's activities.

Following the publication of the allegations, Israeli police announced that they were opening a formal investigation into the claims. 

Read more: Israel's demographic battle for Jerusalem leaves Palestinians struggling to survive

Meshi-Zahav was best know for founding the Zaka Search and Rescue Organization which "provides a rapid response to mass casualty disasters across the world", according to their website. 

Zaka also assists in the identification of individuals and in some cases collects body parts to ensure the deceased can receive a proper Jewish burial. 

In recognition of his work Yehuda Meshi-Zahav was the Israel Prize, the highest award in the country, which he relinquished after the allegations were made public. 

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