Zaka founder steps aside after sex claims

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav described the allegations made against him last week as unfounded gossip


**FILE**ZAKA leader Rabbi Yehuda Meshi-Zahav on February 4, 2010. Photo by Yaakov Naumi/Flash90. **YATED NEEMAN & KIKAR SHABAT & KOOKER OUT** **FILE** *** Local Caption *** éäåãä îùé æäá æ÷"à

The founding chairman of the emergency response and rescue organisation Zaka in Israel, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, has handed back his Israel Prize following allegations of sexual abuse and assault, some involving minors, last week. 

He has also stepped aside from his role in Zaka pending an investigation into the claims, which were published by the newspaper Ha’aretz. 

He was awarded the prize earlier this month for his work over 30 years with the organisation, which is known especially for its help in identifying victims of terrorist attacks. 

In a statement published on the website Yeshiva World News, he described the accusations against him as “unfounded” gossip and “the settling of scores against me”. 

He said he was acting “out of concern for the holy organisation that I built with my two hands”. 

Mr Meshi-Zahav said he needed  “an enormous amount of mental strength for this struggle and look with anguish at the damage that may be caused as a result to this important organisation, its activities and 4,000 dedicated volunteers.” 

He added that the “situation in which I find myself, requires me to take time out from my responsibilities as chairman until the cloud has been removed.” 

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