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Sexual abuse allegations mount in opposition to Israeli reduction chief

JERUSALEM (AP) – For many years Yehuda Meshi-Zahav has been one among Israel’s most recognizable faces, broadly revered for founding an ultra-Orthodox reduction service that cared for victims of Palestinian assaults and bridged the hole between non secular and secular Israelis.

However in latest days, Meshi-Zahav has confronted a rising listing of accusers who say they’ve dedicated horrific acts of sexual abuse of males, ladies and kids for many years.

The scandal has all however destroyed the fame of a person who just some weeks in the past acquired Israel’s award, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his lifelong achievements. He additionally make clear the scourge of sexual abuse within the island world of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox group.

“In the case of the ultra-Orthodox specifically, there’s a very sturdy code of silence,” stated Manny Waks, an advocate for victims of sexual abuse within the non secular group and himself a survivor of abuse in his Australia. native.

“There’s a closed group mentality, us versus them. Placing all of this stuff collectively is a recipe for catastrophe, particularly within the context of kid sexual abuse, ”he stated.

Whereas Meshi-Zahav has denied the allegations, his accusers have delivered related accounts. They are saying Meshi-Zahav exploited his public notoriety to molest and sexually exploit ladies, girls and boys, and that the ultra-Orthodox group protected him with a wall of silence.

A sufferer recognized by the letter “N” advised the Yedioth Ahronot each day on Sunday that she first met Meshi-Zahav in 1996 when he was 16 and Meshi-Zahav 20 years his senior.

“Everybody near him throughout these years knew that I used to be his escort. I turned a prostitute within the full sense of the phrase, ”he stated.

Meshi-Zahav was as soon as a member of a radical ultra-Orthodox sect that opposed the existence of Israel, believing {that a} Jewish state might solely be established after the arrival of the Messiah. His perspective modified after a devastating bus assault in 1989 close to Jerusalem killed 16 folks.

Meshi-Zahav joined volunteers who helped acquire the stays of the victims, in step with the Jewish customized of honoring the useless. He stated expertise had taught him that everybody’s ache was equal.

These efforts led to the formation in 1995 of ZAKA, whose volunteers helped establish victims of disasters and suicide bombings and picked up their stays for a Jewish funeral. Over time, the group expanded to incorporate paramedics and gained broad respect in Israel.

Meshi-Zahav has acquired quite a few honors and has change into an emblem of moderation within the typically strained relations between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel.

He was invited to mild a ceremonial torch throughout Israel’s Independence Day celebrations and not too long ago implored different members of the ultra-Orthodox group to stick to coronavirus security precautions after the deaths of his two dad and mom of COVID-19. On the time, he stated rabbis who inspired worshipers to disregard security laws had “blood on their palms.”

Earlier this month, Meshi-Zahav, 61, acquired the Israel Lifetime Achievement Award. He broke down in tears when Schooling Minister Yoav Gallant broke the information, claiming the prize belonged to the 1000’s of ZAKA volunteers.

This recognition appears to have been the set off that led his accusers to come back ahead after years of silence.

It began final Thursday, when the Haaretz each day printed the accounts of six alleged victims accusing Meshi-Zahav of rape, sexual assault and harassment.

In response, Meshi-Zahav wrote a letter saying “These slanders are baseless and seem extra like gossip and the closing of accounts in opposition to me.” He stated he was taking a hiatus as a director of ZAKA and waived the Israel Award, however denied any wrongdoing.

Since then, the online of testimonies has become a torrent.

On Sunday, Israel Police introduced that its main crimes unit, Lahav 433, had opened an official investigation. Hebrew media reported on Monday that police investigated related allegations in opposition to him in 2013, however closed the investigation on account of lack of proof.

ZAKA, in the meantime, issued a press release expressing “shock and astonishment”, saying that the allegations in opposition to Meshi-Zahav “elicit deep horror, shock and disgust, mild years away from the values ​​that characterize l ‘group”.

Statistics on sexual abuse within the ultra-Orthodox world are laborious to come back by.

Waks, who heads the Kol V’Oz advocacy group, stated the final estimate in Israeli society is that one in six boys and one in 4 ladies have been sexually abused. He stated there was nothing to recommend the numbers are any completely different within the ultra-Orthodox world.

“Many people would say that there are heightened vulnerabilities that translate into a rise within the variety of mistreatment,” he stated. These embrace the shortage of intercourse training, the lack to intently supervise kids on account of massive households, and basic belief amongst adults in tight-knit communities.

He referred to as the allegations in opposition to Meshi-Zahav “stunning however not stunning” and stated he hoped they might encourage different alleged victims to come back ahead. He additionally urged Israel to abolish the statute of limitations in such circumstances.

The present statute of limitations for sexual abuse within the household or with a detailed group member, resembling a instructor or physician, is 20 years from the time the sufferer turns 18. In different circumstances, the statute of limitations for sexual assault is three years. to 5 years and to 10 years within the occasion of rape.

In a landmark case that make clear abuses within the ultra-Orthodox world, Israel in January extradited Malka Leifer, a former ultra-Orthodox instructor wished on 74 counts of kid sexual abuse expenses, to the Australia after an extended authorized battle.

Shana Aaronson, government director of Magen for Jewish Communities, an Israeli advocacy group for survivors of sexual abuse, stated no less than six folks have contacted the group about Meshi-Zahav. She stated the primary expenses surfaced about six years in the past.

“The particular person was now not prepared to debate it, to go to the police or something like that,” she stated.

She stated the vary of complaints which have surfaced in opposition to Meshi-Zahav “paint a portrait of a sure character of somebody who was extremely assured that he was simply going to get away with it.

The Israel Schooling Ministry, which awards the Israel Prize, has but to touch upon Meshi-Zahav. However Miriam Peretz, member of the award committee and winner of the Israel award, spoke out.

“All of us on the committee categorically condemn this entire horrible factor,” she advised Israeli public broadcaster Kan.

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