Yehuda Meshi-Zahav
Yehuda Meshi-ZahavYonatan Sindel/Flash90

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, while others were adults.

One woman, Z., claims that she was raped by Meshi-Zahav when she was in her 20s.

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, destroy me as a whole.”

The Haaretz report, Meshi-Zahav said, “included vague and anonymous claims from decades ago.”

“I want to clarify immediately, there is no truth to these reports. 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."

Nevertheless, on Friday, Meshi-Zahav said he would waive the Israel Prize, and announced he would be stepping down as chief of ZAKA for the foreseeable future.

Ephraim Damari, attorney for Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, responded tonight (Monday, Mar 15th) to allegations against his client.

"Yehuda is convinced of one thing - that the media and public are putting him on trial for things he has no connection to. This is a very dangerous precedent," Damari said in an interview to Kann News.

"Trials are decided in court. Everything that is happening at the moment is getting in the way of a fair procedure. The media are the ones collecting evidence instead of the police and we don't know how reliable these sources are. The authorities should be allowed to do their job. My client, Yehuda Meshi Zahav, will fully cooperate with the police as soon as he's brought to trial. Once investigators present their evidence, he will provide his version of events."

Damari denied any involvement of his client in the acts attributed to him by the media. "Yehuda does not even know what's going on here. There is no truth to the allegations attributed to him. As soon as he knows what's actually going on, he will provide testimony to the authorities investigating the case."

"Meshi is a very nice man who has never threatened anyone. Anyone who has a complaint against him is welcome to file it with the Israel Police. The media prints everything but that's as far as it gets. We're not looking down on any of the plaintiffs. All we're saying is, let the police do their job before passing judgement," concluded Damari.