Israeli police launched a probe Friday into claims of sexual assault levelled at Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the founder and chief of the ZAKA rescue organization.
Meshi-Zahav, who was selected earlier this month for the Israel Prize in the field of Lifetime Achievement and Special Contribution to Society and the State award, has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least six people, both male and female.
The allegations first came to light in a report published Thursday by Haaretz.
According to the report, the six accusers claim Meshi-Zahav sexually exploited or assaulted them as far back as the 1980s.
Some of the accusers were minors at the time of the alleged assaults, others were adults.
One woman, Z., claims that she was raped by Meshi-Zahav when she was in her 20s.
A male accuser, N., said that in the 1990s Meshi-Zahav tried to pressure him into having intercourse.
Meshi-Zahav denied the allegations, claiming they were part of a smear campaign aiming to “settle accounts” with him.
“Publication of this article is an attempt to settle accounts with me and, regrettably, to destroy me as well.”
The Haaretz report, Meshi-Zahav said, “included vague and anonymous claims from decades ago.”
“I want to clarify immediately, there is no truth to them. Ever since it was announced that I’d won the Israel Prize, I’ve been the target of various telephone threats. After my parents died, people called me and expressed joy over their deaths.”
“People spit at me when I walked down the street. Threatening messages were sent. Unfortunately, that is part of the price I must pay for the path I have chosen. Publication of this article is an attempt to settle accounts with me and, regrettably, to destroy me as well.
Nevertheless, on Friday, Meshi-Zahav said he would waive the Israel Prize, and announced that he will be stepping aside as chief of ZAKA for the time being.
Labor Party chairwoman Meirav Michaeli lauded police for the decision to launch the investigation, and called on the Education Ministry to suspend the decision to award the prize to Meshi-Zahav.
“I call on the Education Ministry to immediately suspend the awarding of the Israel Prize to Meshi-Zahav, until the police investigation is completed on this matter. These are serious, horrifying testimonials. I believe victims who bravely reveal the attacks on them.”