YERUSA ALE EU (AP) – For decades, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav was one of Israel’s most respected figures for establishing an ultra-Orthodox rescue service that cared for the victims of Palestinian attacks and bridged religious differences.
But in recent days, Meshiha has faced a growing list of accusers who say she has committed horrific acts of sexual violence against men, women and children for decades.
The scandal has destroyed the reputation of a man who just weeks ago received the Israeli award, the highest civilian honor in the country, for the achievements of his life. It also shed light on the scourge of sexual violence in the secular world of Israel’s extreme Orthodox community.
“When it comes to extremists in particular, there is a great deal of silence,” said Manny Wax, an advocate for victims of sexual violence in the religious community in her native Australia, a survivor of violence.
“There is a closed community mindset, we are against them. “Putting all these things together is a recipe for disaster, especially in the context of child sexual abuse,” he said.
While Meshiha hah denies the allegations, his accusers have made similar accounts. They say that the Meshiha ha used his social significance to abuse, sexually exploit women, boys and girls equally, that the extreme Orthodox community protected him with a wall of silence.
The victim, identified by the letter “N”, told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily on Sunday that Meshiha first met the deer in 1996 when he was 16 years old and the Meshiha ha 20 years older.
“In those years, everyone close to him knew that I was his escort. “I became a prostitute in every sense of the word,” she said.
At one time, the Messiah was a member of an extreme Orthodox sect that opposed the existence of Israel, believing that a Jewish state could be established only after the coming of the Messiah. His views changed after a devastating attack near Jerusalem in 1989 that killed 16 people.
Meshiha ha joined volunteers to help collect the remains of the dead in accordance with Jewish custom of honoring the dead. He said that experience has taught him that everyone’s pain is equal.
These efforts led to the creation of ZAKA in 1995, whose volunteers helped identify victims of disasters, including suicide bombings, and collect their remains for Jewish burial. Over time, the group expanded to include the first paramedics, gaining widespread respect in Israel.
The Messiah has been awarded many diplomas, has become a symbol of moderation in the often strained relations between the secular and extremist Orthodox Jews of Israel.
He was invited to light a torch during Israel’s Independence Day celebrations, and recently urged members of his ultra-Orthodox community to respect coronavirus safety precautions after both of his parents died of COVID-19. He said at the time that rabbis who encouraged followers to disregard safety rules were “blood on their hands”.
Earlier this month, 61-year-old Meshiha ha was awarded the Israel Lifetime Achievement Award. She cried when Education Minister Joao Galant announced the award, saying the award went to thousands of ZAKA volunteers.
It seems that this recognition was the trigger that pushed his accusers to come forward after years of silence.
It began last Thursday when the Haaretz daily published the accounts of six alleged victims who had blamed Meshiha for rape, sexual assault and persecution.
In response, Meshihaha wrote a letter, which reads: “These slanders are baseless; they seem more like gossip against me.” He said he was taking a break as director of ZAKA, refused the Israeli award, but denied any wrongdoing.
Since then, the flood of testimonies has turned into a torrent.
On Sunday, Israeli police announced that their major crime unit, Lahav 433, had launched a formal investigation. On Monday, Hebrew media outlets reported that police had investigated such allegations against him in 2013, but closed the investigation due to lack of evidence.
At the same time, ZAKA issued a statement expressing “shock: astonishment”, saying that the accusations against Meshihaha “cause deep disgust, shock և disgust, from the values that characterize the organization bright years away.”
In the ultra-Orthodox world, statistics on sexual violence are difficult to obtain.
Walks, who heads Cole V’Oz’s advocacy group, says the general assessment of Israeli society is that one in every six boys and four girls has been sexually abused. He said that in the extreme Orthodox world, the numbers are different, there is nothing to assume.
“Many of us claim that there is an increase in vulnerability, which will mean an increase in abuse,” he said. These include lack of sex education, inability to keep children close because of large families, and a general level of adult trust in disadvantaged communities.
He described the allegations against Meshiha as “shocking but not surprising” and said he hoped they would encourage other alleged victims. He urged Israel to lift the statute of limitations in such cases.
The current statute of limitations for sexual assault in the family or with a close family member, such as a teacher or doctor, is 20 years after the victim turns 18 years old. In other cases, the statute of limitations for violence is three. up to five years, and in cases of rape – 10 years.
In January, Israel extradited former orthodox teacher Malka Leiffer, who was wanted on 74 counts of child sexual abuse, to Australia in a protracted case that shed light on abuses in the extremist orthodox world.
Shana Aaronson, executive director of Magen for Jewish Communities, an advocacy group for survivors of Israeli sexual violence, says at least six people have contacted the organization about the Meshiha haha. He said the first allegations appeared about six years ago.
“The person no longer wanted to discuss the issue, contact the police or anything like that,” he said.
He said the spectrum of protests against the Meshiha was “a reflection of a certain individual who was incredibly convinced that he was simply going to avoid it.”
The Israeli Ministry of Education, which awards the Israel Prize, has not yet commented on the Meshiha haha. But Miriam Peretz, a member of the award committee and winner of the Israeli Prize, spoke about it.
“We, the members of the Committee, strongly condemn this heinous act,” said Can, an Israeli public broadcaster.