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"If You Say Anything to Anyone, a Zaka Van Will Run You Over"
The Sordid History of the Zaka Rescue Service
“When we come across one or two instances of misleading information in a book, and then find that they are actually deliberate lies, clearly we can no longer trust or believe any information given by this author.”
- Polybius [12.252]
Introduction: An Outbreak of Shocking Violence
In the morning hours of October 7th, Hamas, the government of the Gaza Strip, launched an invasion of Israel. For reasons that are still unclear, Israel’s defenses failed and Hamas experienced military success which was previous unimaginable. It appears that a key part of their strategy was committing savage massacres of civilians and taking a large amount of hostages, in the hopes that this would simultaneously enrage Israel and its supporters past the point of reason while the hostages would force them to have to show restraint. Though there is no shortage of real violence and appalling imagery coming out of this conflict, we are also being subject to a lot of unverified reports designed to enrage and thus generate support for Israel to “level” Gaza. In particular, there has been much debate about the “40 decapitated babies” claim which has gone on an odyssey of its own since it was first reported [it needs to be noted that the original quote was “40 dead babies, some of them decapitated,” but journalism on the topic was so wildly irresponsible they created a situation where their reporting would be untrue regardless of which facts came out. Of course the skeptics, not the press, are being blamed for confusion about the matter.]
In this milieu, something caught my eye. An article in the British tabloid The Daily Mail by a woman named Rachel Bunyan goes over some of these claims [the author herself is also sketchy, but that isn’t relevant to our purposes here.] Most notably, she highlights an interview from the Israeli Channel i24 with a man named Yossi Landau who leads the southern division of a rescue organization called Zaka [a Hebrew acronym for “disaster victim identification,” the widespread use of this term will be important later.] Among other things, he claimed that a fetus was cut out of a woman’s stomach and then stabbed, something quite similar to reports from the 1982 Shabra and Shatila massacre committed by Lebanese Christian militias allied with the Israeli Defense Forces against the Palestinian Liberation Organization [the description of which had already been circulating on social media with the claim that it was a current crime committed by Hamas.] He also claims to have seen two babies with their hands tied behind their back tortured on a dinner table in front of similarly bound parents. Strangely, these specific extreme claims have not spread across social media in the same way as many others.
It needs to be noted that on top of the issues which will be explained regarding Zaka, that this Channel i24 is widely known as the “pro-Netanyahu” channel in Israel, with a 2019 investigation in Haaretz going as far as to allege that they had changed a variety of rules within their newsroom to flatter Netanyahu in order to receive a broadcast license, with one former executive going as far as to say, “It’s not even a propaganda channel for Israel, it’s a pro-Bibi channel.” One notices a distinct lack of push back against the extreme claims made in the interview, and in fact instead of questioning Landau the host spends all his time attacking people skeptical of such claims. However, there are many reasons to be skeptical of anything Landau, or anyone from Zaka has to say.
As is my habit when I see such an inflammatory and appalling claim, I decided to look into this Yossi Landau and his organization Zaka. My first move was to determine that Yossi Landau existed before last week. He has kept a pretty low profile, at least on the English language internet. However, I was able to find an interview with him from 2019 on Facebook, and he comes off as an honest and interesting man- a survivor of the 9/11 attacks actually- with a strong sense of public service. But a few things in the video throw up red flags in 2023, certainly enough to proceed in looking into it. Landau’s part of this story is mostly over.
It was as I pulled on the thread of Zaka and its co-founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav that an incredible story emerged. A story of a shadowy network of US fundraising entities, investigations into decades of heinous sex crimes, accusations of a long-term pattern of scamming donors through similarly named organizations, and media reporting on documentary evidence showing that Zaka misrepresented their number of volunteers and activities in order to bilk millions of shekels out of the Israeli government. In short, no one who has been in the leadership of the Zaka Search and Rescue organization founded by Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, or any of its affiliated organizations, should be considered a credible witness in the media or before any international body.
Background: The Moderate Haredi and the Religious Rescue Service
The concept of Zaka organizations began in 1989 following what is described as “the first suicide attack of its kind” in Israel, when an Islamic Jihad member commandeered and intentionally crashed a bus, killing 16 people. In 1995, Yehedu Meshi-Zahav founded the organization which is our primary topic, formally “Zaka Identification, Extraction, and Rescue” though commonly called Zaka Jerusalem to differentiate it from a competing Zaka Tel Aviv. The original premise is that Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] Jews in yellow safety vests quickly travel on motorcycles or ATVs to accident sites, something which has become ubiquitous in Israel. [It needs to be noted that Haredi generally dislike “ultra-Orthodox” as an English translation of that term, which makes the Zaka World site using it strange.] Since Haredis do not generally serve in the military, this has allowed them to contribute to Israel’s security situation in a meaningful way, and has helped to improve the often fraught relations between their community and the more secular segments of Israeli society. It needs to be noted, however, that Zaka’s long-time Chief Operating Officer, Mati Goldstein, says on his LinkedIn profile that he is a 25 year IDF Veteran who “took part in many major undercover missions,” meaning that he has been a trained spy of the Israeli government. Further, the current Zaka World page boasts that the organization, “works in close cooperation with Israel’s Foreign Ministry, the IDF and other government bodies.” Like most recognized NGOs [non-governmental organizations,] as it has grown it has became ever more intertwined with the government under which it operates.
Over time the role of Zaka has expanded, and they provide many types of rescue services and training, such as water rescue and international disaster relief. They are specifically experts at identifying body parts, a particularly grueling task which takes a large toll on volunteers. For Orthodox Jews it is a tradition that a victim of violence should be buried with all of his body parts and blood within 24 hours, so the Haredi Jews of Zaka provide a specialized service for those to whom this is important. Zaka also helps families of victims of violence understand a variety of difficult Halachich questions regarding burial, wills, and other related issues. To look at their international English website, a person who isn’t experienced at looking into the corruption of NGOs would find their mission grim but inspiring. That is, if one doesn’t notice that they include testimony from the US regime change witch Samantha Power [wherein she praises the now disgraced Meshi-Zahav] and the fact that they stopped updating their media mentions five years ago.
Still, we can be sure that the great majority of Zaka volunteers [however many there are, more on that later] are good people who simply want to help the families of victims of violence. This is true of many organizations that are corrupt at the highest levels; for example the American Red Cross [allegedly] pocketing many millions of dollars of Haiti earthquake relief money doesn’t mean the average volunteer is not a genuine humanitarian helping those who are suffering. However, Israel’s persistent internal security problems as well as the normal kinds of accidents and crimes which happen within any society has lead to a proliferation of such groups, sometimes putting them in competition with each other.
A 2016 article from Haaretz titled, “How ‘Ego Wars’ Among Israeli Rescue Organizations are Endangering the Public” covers how this relates to the various Zaka organizations. The poor training of some of volunteers came to light when a young volunteer named Barak Sharabi working for Zaka Tel Aviv [the second largest Zaka organization, not the subject of this investigation] ghoulishly posted a video to social media of a murder victim’s mother being informed of his death with the caption “Must credit Barak Sharabi!” The Haaretz article describes the broader situation as follows, “As the number of volunteers grew, so did the number of pictures being disseminated online. And so did the probability that dreadful ones violating the dignity of the victims, or the dead, would be uploaded.” The Sharabi incident highlighted larger problems with these groups, the biggest of which is they compete for publicity, including being the first to submit disaster photos and to make media appearances. Besides a lack of training and human folly, the main cause, of course, is the competition for donations. In short, they benefit from terror attacks, and the more gruesome the details the more it spreads through the press and the more donations they potentially receive. This is an issue in all such groups once they become established organizations with expenses and the personal egos of leaders. Many non-profits come to benefit from the existence of the problem they exist to alleviate or solve and then have an incentive to perpetuate the problem. A further problem is that the volunteers for Zaka groups are not the ones who investigate crimes, and may prematurely label someone a terrorist. For example, If an Israeli Arab shoots a Jew over a love triangle or drives drunk and hits a crowd of civilians, a volunteer could easily wrongly label either thing as terrorism when in reality it was the “normal” kind of crime. All of these things show the folly of using Zaka groups as a sole source of information about casualty incidents, but its also functionally impossible to stop so many volunteers from talking to the media. Of course, the media will have a tendency to run with the most sensational story.
Regarding the background of Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, he was an interesting figure who played an increasingly large role in Israeli public life until his stunning fall from grace. He is described by YNetNews as having been a “legendary” operations officer of the Eda Haredit faction, an anti-Zionist Orthodox group. There is a great deal of diversity among such groups, and I’m certainly no expert on Jewish theology, but a short description from The Jerusalem Post says of anti-Zionist Haredis,
“Their position is basically that the establishment of the State of Israel is a rebellion against the nations of the world, and even worse, a rebellion against God that forbids any political organization for the Jewish people until the coming of the Messiah.”
Many primarily speak Yiddish, though among some groups the opposition to the use of Hebrew and the State of Israel has diminished over time. Historically Haredis are exempt from conscription and do not serve in the military for a variety of reasons, but the official justification is that they must focus on their religious studies.
The YNetNews article describes Meshi-Zahav, an 11th generation Jerusalemite, as a “former extremist” who was arrested dozens of times protesting against the State of Israel. Following the 1989 terrorist attack described above he became a “moderate” in his stance towards Israel, ultimately becoming a supporter of the Israeli Defense Forces, an important lesson to everyone who uses violence about the impact it can have on a man to see the blood of his people. Witnessing terrorism caused him to support Israel, it did not terrorize him into giving up, though it’s possible there was more going on behind the scenes. Nevertheless, in 2007 he was quoted in the BBC praising an arson attack on a crematorium because cremation is against Jewish law, saying, “It was an illegal activity, a desecration of the dead and I applaud the destruction of this building, which was destined to disappear in flames,” a notably immoderate stance. In 2003, during the Second Intifada, his status as the head of Zaka made him prominent enough to light the beacon at the 55th anniversary of Israel’s founding. In 2021 Yeshi-Zahav reached the peak of civic honors, being awarded Israel’s highest honor, the Israel Prize by Yoav Gallant, then the Education Minister but currently the Defense Minister. Days after, he would return the award in disgrace. In under two years he would be dead.
Accusations about Meshi-Zahav and corruption at Zaka had been floating around Israeli society for years. However, the country had a use for Meshi-Zahav. Israel has always been a very divided country, not just in terms of the conflict with Palestine or the Israeli-Arab population, but among the Jews themselves. Israel was never able to agree on a formal constitution, and the protests which occupied the country all of 2023 until the October 7th attacks showed the deep split in society. Earlier inquiries into sexual abuse and corruption against Meshi-Zahav did not gain traction, with one accuser from the early 2010’s saying, “everywhere I mentioned his name a door was shut,” presumably both because he was a revered figure and because of his unique function within society. Israel’s government was eager to integrate Haredis into society and the IDF, and Meshi-Zahav was happy to play the role of convincing them, serving on committees to help increase Haredi participation in the military. On hearing the unsurprising news that his son was joining the military with his blessing, one Haredi source told YNetNews,
“In the eyes of Eda Haredit, Meshi-Zahav hasn't been considered ultra-Orthodox for a while now. He is a person who knew how to explain to everyone why Zionism is a lie, and at an older age he suddenly decided to change. The education at Yehuda's house encouraged his son to join the army.”
On top of all of this, Meshi-Zahav, who lost both his parents in their early 80s to covid a few days apart, as well as a brother a month earlier, became a voice for telling Israel’s Haredi community- which had resisted lockdown protocols- to obey the state. He said that Orthodox Rabbis have “blood on their hands” for not supporting the lockdown regime [which of course, we now know didn’t work, something which was obvious at the time.] He even went as far as to call these Rabbis of his own sect “worse than Holocaust deniers.” In short, it appears that Meshi-Zahav sold out everything he believed in to support the Israeli government and in return they turned a blind eye to his gross corruption. That is, until they couldn’t anymore, following a remarkable display of the “Fourth Estate’s” power to root out evil within society.
Transparency, or Lack Thereof: Zaka’s Presence in the United States
I will be presenting what I uncovered about Zaka’s activities in the United States before moving onto Israeli media reports about Zaka and Meshi-Zahav’s alleged corruption. But first, it is appropriate to say a few more words about how I found myself on this path, given that to many may find it untoward to dig this deep into a search and rescue organization which just responded to a massacre. Perhaps I would as well, if not for the fact that the “White Helmets” in Syria were at best a Western propaganda organization and at worst practically an arm of Al Qaeda, and thus I was instantly even more skeptical of Zaka’s descriptions of atrocities that I would have been otherwise. Further, in general I do quite a lot of research into NGOs, think tanks, and that sort of thing. I even wrote a thread about how to do this research some time ago. In short, we live in unsubtle times, and many organizations get direct funding from the United States under the auspices of the National Endowment for Democracy [NED] or related soft power US government agencies, George Soros’ Open Societies Foundations, or similar organizations. Commonly, such organizations are also funded by major financial interests or arms contractors. Generally for any sort of non-profit, the funding is pretty easy to find, and the line they take usually promotes the interests of their funders.
It needs to be noted going forward that what I have found would appear to be US organizations raising funds for the main Zaka in Israel, but in every instance it is unknown to me if they have any legal connection. It is unclear what they are at all. You can draw your own conclusions about the accuracy of the filings, but they are the tax forms which are publicly available. These 501(c)(3) charity organizations incorporated in the United States also say that they don’t transfer money to foreign corporations, making it unclear how they support Zaka in Israel, if they do at all. It does need to be emphasized that New York City has a larger Jewish population than Jerusalem and Tel Aviv combined, so fundraising out of New York should be a major revenue stream for Zaka in Israel [and there are some Israeli media references to fundraising in America.]
From the beginning of looking into Zaka, it was immediately obvious that it is the most opaque and suspicious non-governmental organization I have ever investigated, and that is before looking at the media reports I will get to later. If one looks at their English language website, there is absolutely no information about where they receive funding. A translation of their Hebrew language website also does not appear to contain any sort of financial information. What’s more, the English page doesn’t show the staff or leadership, something highly unusual; alternately, the Hebrew page has names with no picture or biography. It’s only possible to find who has been running the organization besides Meshi-Zahav from scattered references and news stories where a man declares his own title.
The only real clue about the organization is behind the Zaka World website comes from the IRS Employee Identification Number at the bottom of the page, which is peculiar as it is meant to be the international English language website of a major international organization with UN observer status. That EIN [46-0567613] belongs to a small entity called “Zaka North Inc” ran by an Ezekiel Farkas. For every year besides 2016 this Zaka North Inc only has “postcard” filings at the IRS due to taking in under $50,000 annually [note: the IRS search function does not provide direct links, so you need to go to the IRS Tax Exempt Organization search and input the EIN numbers provided if you wish to see the main page for these organizations.]
This information does not match the name nor address given on their website:
In fact, according to the IRS no such organization as Zaka Inc exists in the United States:
Further, the public address on the website is a private mailbox rental. This would all seem trivial, except that the Meshi-Zahav family has been shown in court to have run duplicate organizations with Zaka in their name, something that Israeli media has credibly alleged was done for personal profit [I will get to that later.]
This Ezekiel Farkas has no online presence and Zaka North Inc has no public website. Strangely, Zaka North Inc does have one long form filing from 2016, where they report $560,085 in revenue, more than 11x their income any other year.
The only part of this revenue which went to disaster relief- the primary purpose of Zaka Search and Rescue- was a grant of $167,600. Further, they report that none of their money went to foreign corporations, so the trail on this disbursement runs completely cold when it allegedly reaches Israel. There is a “Name of organization” box, so one imagines if they could truthfully say that it had gone to a Zaka organization in Israel it should say so. I am frankly surprised that the IRS accepts a form where a charity’s explanation of what happened to its money is that they wired $167,600 to an unnamed party in the Middle East.
This appears to be a smaller fundraising body and not the main organization, but that is all the more reason to have low overhead and that funds they collect would be directly disbursed to the main organization. Meanwhile, they spent more money on conferences than they did on disaster relief.
The last column is fundraising expenses whereas the first is “program service expenses” meaning it goes to the “key functions” of their mission. The problem is we don’t know what the mission of Zaka North Inc is or how it is served by spending well over a 3rd of the budget on conferences. For all of this, their “program expense ratio” is 64.3%, whereas the Better Business Bureau recommends 65% or higher, so they would only need some minor tweaks to fall at the very bottom limit of the acceptable range; by contrast, Charity Navigator gives the highest ranking for above 85%. Speaking of Charity Navigator, they are unable to rank Zaka North Inc due to a lack of information. A phone call to the number associated with their organization gave a message that the party was not available, though it has been 7 years since they last provided a phone number, due to every other year showing under $50,000 in revenue and thus allowing a truncated IRS filing. It further needs to be noted that at no point in this tax filing does the organization show any relationship to anything called Zaka Search and Rescue or any other name used by the organization founded by Yehuda Meshi-Zahav. It is simply what one finds by searching the EIN number displayed on the Zaka World public website. The name Zaka is not included in the summary of the organization’s activities:
An internet search for Zaka Search and Rescue finds something different, and relatively more transparent. It discovers an organization named Zaka Search and Rescue Inc which Charity Navigator gives 2 out of 4 stars under “accountability and finance,” receiving a low rating because it doesn’t include its website on its tax form and its website does not disclose any financial information. There is not enough information to rate it on any other criteria. It also receives a 14/25 [or F grade if we were to rank it like school] for its expenses ratio. Charity navigator provides an EIN number of 81-4798325 for Zaka Search and Rescue Inc.
Though it appears more “real” than Zaka North Inc, Zaka Search and Rescue Inc also does not seem above board. The greatest irregularity is that when one searches the phone number provided on the IRS form, it is shared with something called the “Israel Magen Fund,” which also provides no financial information. As far as I can tell, the phone number is the only thing associated with Zaka Search and Rescue Inc which would lead a person to discovering the Israel Magen Fund exists at all or has any association with Zaka Search and Rescue Inc. These organizations also have the same EIN number, despite Zaka Search and Rescue Inc in no way mentioning it in their IRS filings and Israel Magen Fund does not say it is the same thing as Zaka on its website. This means a Zaka donor would not discover the existence of the Israel Magen Fund but an Israel Magen Fund donor would easily find it is the same as Zaka Search and Rescue Inc doing any basic research into the charity’s legitimacy. It is difficult imagine any purpose this could serve but to surreptitiously direct money intended for Zaka to the Israel Magen Fund. David Rose, the founder of the Israel Magen Fund, is listed as the treasurer of Zaka Search and Rescue Inc and its only full time employee in a 2020 990 form filed with the IRS. Interestingly, a David Rosenberg was listed a a trustee at Zaka North Inc in 2016, though it has not been possible to find out if there is a connection.
Note that he shows no hours at “related organizations.” It is possible that the Israel Magen Fund was founded after 2020, the year of the most recent tax return. The Israel Magen Fund’s transparency is so poor that it is not clear how long they have existed. Their oldest news item is from March 2022, but in the first sentence contains the line, “remains our top priority,” implying that it is not the first thing they ever did. Either way, it should be clear to their donors, to whom they promise “complete transparency” that donations are made under the EIN of an entirely different corporation. It is not immediately clear if the US government knows that the Israel Magen Fund exists, but this description appears to be inaccurate, because the EIN goes to a different 501(c)(3) registered in the United States:
Their mission is ostensibly good though, as they primarily exist to provide equipment to first responders:
This complete transparency claim is also laughable when one takes note of something at the end of Zaka Search and Rescue Inc’s filing:
Right, complete transparency as your donation is claimed by different named organization you don’t admit to being associated with that then doesn’t disclose its policies. I will give Zaka Search and Rescue Inc, however, that over half of their funding is spent on “support” grants to the Middle East, except that they are again wire transfers to unnamed parties:
And once again, they don’t transfer money to a foreign corporation as per this filing, meaning no Zaka organization in Israel receives it. One is also left wondering why they spend almost 10% of their revenue on non-fundraising related advertising [why are they advertising, if not to raise funds?] Despite these peculiarities, this does appear to claim to be the “real” Zaka, and not a fundraising arm:
It would be difficult to prove that Zaka Search and Rescue Inc had any connection to Zaka North Inc who is listed as the owner of the Zaka World website, if not for the organization’s former President, Edward Mermelstein. Mermelstein, a Russophone Ukrainian Jew, like Mila Kunis or Volodymyr Zelensky, immigrated to the United States in 1976. Currently he is the Commissioner of something called the New York City Mayor’s Office for International Affairs. He was previously a high-powered Real Estate attorney who ran an office dealing in ultra-luxury Manhattan apartments- one current listing is a $38 million condo with 3 bedrooms and 7.5 baths [which is 4 full bathrooms and 7 half bathrooms, so 11 toilets, I guess one really entertains in a place like that] while another unit is a rental available for $52,000 a month. According to his official biography, he was the President of Zaka International Rescue and Recovery from 2018-2021, which I should emphasize is not the name of any of the legal entities we have discussed so far and has not yet appeared in this article. However, this leads us to a third entity with completely different information called Zaka Rescue and Recovery Inc, with an EIN of 45-1140282 which had Yehuda Meshi-Zahav as its first President; this organization only had substantial revenue in 2016, the same year that Zaka North Inc brought in enough to need to file a full form. Mermelstein’s biography does say it is a UN-Recognized rescue organization, leading one to believe it is the same one as in Israel, but the status is still not clear. As per the 2020 IRS filing, at the time he was the President of the 501(c)(3) non-profit Zaka Search and Rescue Inc, a position for which he is described as working 2 hours a week for no compensation. A 2018 article from The Jewish Voice, a weekly publication from New York City, says he has been made the President of Zaka Search and Rescue in the USA. What is most important, is that there is a picture of him with Zaka founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav demonstrating definitively this is all at least supposed to be the same thing, even if it remains unclear whether he was the US or international President. Further, the Zaka World website which uses the name “Zaka Search and Rescue” makes it clear that it is the organization that is UN-recognized and founded by Meshi-Zahav
Mermelstein ostensibly has a high level of business acumen given his outrageous personal success, so one would think he could have better managed a charitable organization, assuming he had any power there and it wasn’t solely ran by the treasurer David Rose.
Perhaps some of the things in this section are innocent or mundane, but combined with what has been uncovered over the years by Israeli media, this fundraising pattern in the US seems unlikely to be honest.
“The Haredi Jeffrey Epstein”: The Fall of Meshi-Zahav
At the peak of his popularity, beloved by the public and uniquely useful to the government, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav faced the one enemy who could defeat him: the press. On March 11th, 2021, about a week after he received the Israel Award, a thorough investigation was published in Israel’s “Paper of Record” Haaretz detailing accusations of decades of sexual abuse by Meshi-Zahav, including of minors of both sexes. You can read it yourself, the accusations are shocking. I am only going to cover some of the more significant details as my purpose here is the broader impact. Perhaps most notable is that the accusations hardly form a pattern besides him being a serial predator for decades- well before he became famous- and consistently exploiting the poverty and desire for attention of many from large Haredi families.
The initial accusation which caused Haaretz to open the investigation was from a woman in a family having financial trouble who sought his assistance. She describes meeting him in 2011, and how he forcibly undressed her and then “forced himself on her” as she was begging him to stop. She reports that he then said, “If you say anything to anyone, a Zaka van will run you over.” I suppose it’s a creative use of a van by a sexual predator, instead of luring children, but an incredible contrast to Zaka’s public mission of rescuing survivors of terrorist attacks and collecting the bodies of those killed. Two years after the alleged attack she was approached by the police after the story got to them, but she refused to file a complaint out fear, so the case was dropped. However, once Haaretz began investigating the matter they were able to find several people will to talk to them about abuse by Meshi-Zahav.
Over all, Haaretz gathered 7 detailed stories of alleged sexual abuse by Meshi-Zahav. Many of them involve 3rd parties, including a divorced woman who was reliant on him for food, a female relative of Meshi-Zahav [whom I suspect had a mental disability from the description, but it does not make this clear,] and women who are described as prostitutes [who from the context of the other stories it appears may have been something more like “concubines.”] The stories involve every sort of perverse act. In one instance he brought a boy to his house multiple times while his wife was home and attempted to pressure him into accepting abuse. In another instance he is accused of molesting a 5 year old boy. Him and his brother Moshe were accused of abusing 7 different 16 year old girls at a boarding school for the underprivileged.
For the purposes of this article, there are a few lines of particular importance. One accuser who was a teenager at the time said he continued to put himself in positions where he had to fight off Meshi-Zahav’s advances for the purpose of “getting something out of him,” including that he had been given a pager back in the ‘80s when they were highly desirable. Haaretz tells of his accusation as follow,
“Some members of the “modesty patrols” knew about the ties between B. and Meshi-Zahav and demanded that he sever them. “They knew that Yehuda was fiddling with children,” B. says. “They shouted and threatened and told me to stop hanging around with him.”
This was well before Zaka was founded as a formal organization, and the “modesty patrols,” something akin to a private version of Iran’s notorious “morality policy,” knew that Meshi-Zahav was “fiddling” with children. However, even then he was powerful enough within the organization that it is the victim they were angry at for allowing the situation to continue. This does fall in line with the fact that like with many insular religious communities, the Haredis historically have an enormous sexual abuse problem. Another accuser, the one who was 5 at the time of the alleged abuse went on to abuse other children himself starting at age 10, and describes his confusion about the situation, “I grew up in a milieu where there’s no sex education or understanding of sexual situations and norms.”
After the Haaretz story another man went public, this time providing his name in an interview with BBC News. In a September 2022 article titled, “Israel: Is this an ultra-Orthodox MeToo moment?” Shayli Tevel tells of how he was groomed and abused by Meshi-Zahav from ages 12-19, which would be in the late 2000s. He also says that due to a lack of sex education he had trouble understanding what happened. He says he did try to go to the police in his early 20s, but “Everywhere I mentioned his name, the door was shut.” Tevel’s claim that “the door was shut” is contradicted by the fact that the Meshi-Zahav’s were investigated during that period and sometimes the police even approached victims. However, in any sensitive matter dealing with an important person, which person within the police receives the report matters a great deal. Further, it appears some of the other investigations may have been for the purpose of saying that they had cleared Yehuda Meshi-Zahav.
Accusers in the Haaretz article say Yehuda Meshi-Zahav boasted of his sexual exploits, including a story of him putting his penis on a store counter in front of a female clerk. The authors further say, “Many people in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Mea She'arim, Shmuel Hanavi, and Sanhedria Murhevet reportedly knew about his actions.”
No one who worked with Zaka can claim to not have known that Yehuda and his brothers were suspected of predatory sexual behavior. In 2003 his younger brother Moshe [deeply involved in company’s suspicious fundraising which is the subject of the next section] was arrested on suspicion of having abused 7 teenage girls, some of them in Zaka vehicles. The pattern fits with accusations against Yehuda, in that Moshe is said to have groomed them by giving them money and gifts leading up to the abuse. An article from the time in YNetNews, translated by Google from Hebrew, says,
“It is suspected that Moshe Meshi-Zahav, 42 years old, took advantage of the economic plight of the minors, helped them financially, and then committed indecent acts on them - among other things in the vehicles of the Zaka organization.
Following intelligence received by the police, Moshe Meshi-Zehav was arrested yesterday morning. During a hearing that took place in court, the police investigator, David Shlomi, said that these are apparently very serious offenses of taking advantage of the mental and financial distress of seven girls during the last eight months”
Moshe’s lawyer described him as an employee of Zaka to demonstrate his good character, but Zaka responded to the accusations by denying he had ever been a Zaka volunteer, much less an employee,
“Moshe Meshi Zahav was never a volunteer at ZAKA, but a paid activist as part of a one-time project. If so, it should be remembered that these are only suspicions and we would like to hope that they turn out to be false. The ZAKA organization will continue its blessed and holy work.”
Note how openly they use their organization’s noble mission as a defense against accusations of serious crimes. It doesn’t appear any charges were filed against Moshe at the time despite the judge saying there was “more than reasonable suspicion” that he was involved in such acts.
All of this would resurface in 2013 when the finances of the group were being investigated and police received intelligence about sex abuse, relating to the teenage girls at the private school in the Haaretz article. The same article states that Moshe fled abroad during the investigation- where he would continue to act as a fundraiser for Zaka- while Yehuda was cleared of wrongdoing. As a result of the same investigation, another brother, Remi Meshi-Zahav, received a 7 year prison sentence for sexually abusing his own daughter as a pre-teen and teenager.
Though Yehuda had managed to survive serious accusations up to this point, there was no excuse for the rest of the Zaka leadership to not have distanced the organization from the Meshi-Zahav family at this time. Due to the organization’s lack of transparency it is unclear when Dubi Weissenstern became the CEO but he has been with Zaka over twenty years, Mati Goldstein has been the COO since 2008, [according to his LinkedIn profile, whereas a 2015 editorial from Meshi-Zahav says a man named Haim Weingarten was the operations chief at the time,] and Yossi Landau the current “Southern Commander” has been with the organization since the founding. At least the core of the organization’s current leadership was already involved in 2014 and were thus clearly aware of the investigation. They all continued to work with an organization led by Yehuda Meshi Zahav and I found no evidence of any attempts to remove him from power.
When asked for a quote for the Haaretz article, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav made unfounded accusations against vague enemies, a habit of both Meshi-Zahav and Zaka. Here is his complete response:
“Regarding the substance of the claims, let me say that it seems to me Haaretz has fallen victim to people with commercial and economic interests who have been trying for a long time to damage me. Added to these are extremist segments of the ultra-Orthodox community that were upset by my unique path within it.
“These groups have opened a campaign of vengeance against me, among other things because my children were drafted into the army, two of them for combat service; because when I lit a torch [at the official Independence Day Ceremony], I said, ‘for the glory of the State of Israel’; and now, because my receipt of the Israel Prize was announced. To this must be added the criticism I’ve voiced from time to time about some of the extremist leaders in the ultra-Orthodox community.
“Ever since it became known that I had won the Israel Prize, I’ve been a target of telephone threats. After my parents died, people called me and expressed glee over their deaths. People have spat at me when I passed them in the street. Threatening messages have been sent to me, and I’ve even passed some of them on to Haaretz. Unfortunately, this is part of the price I pay for the road I’ve chosen.
“Beyond that, I can’t respond to a vague question devoid of specifics. I will only note with regard to one concrete claim – in contrast to the other, vague claims – that was made regarding the dormitory facility in Jerusalem, that the police conducted an inquiry into the matter that related mainly to my brother, and this inquiry found that there was nothing to it.
“Publication of this article is an attempt to settle accounts with me and, regrettably, to destroy me as well. I don’t know how I can repair my reputation in light of the irreversible damage that has been done to me. To the extent that it lies in my power, I will continue to serve the Jewish people and the State of Israel as I have done all my life.”
Some of these things are plausible, but of course no newspaper would give the target of an investigation specific details about about abuse allegations, in order to protect the safety of their sources. The inquiry about the dormitory facility may have officially “Found that there was nothing to it,” but Haaretz described his brother as having “fled abroad” during that inquiry. What I find most notable is “I will continue to serve the Jewish people and the State of Israel as I have done all my life.” This last part is an obvious lie, being as he began his public career- and “career” as an alleged sexual predator- as an “extremist” anti-Israel activist who was arrested by Israeli police dozens of times. It is his betrayal of these former principles and making himself uniquely useful to the State of Israel as someone who could draw people away from his former brethren which is the reason such people would hate him. He, of course, had not yet seen the article when making these accusations, but it seems clear most accusers became alienated from the Haredi community due to the abuse they claim to have suffered at the hands of Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, and thus it is unlikely to be a plot by Haredi “extremists.”
The day after the investigation’s publication on March 11, 2021, Meshi-Zahav returned the Israel Award he had just received and finally resigned as the head of Zaka. A March 15th article from YNetNews cited a source from his neighborhood from an anti-abuse group called “Committee for Preserving Our Camp’s Purity” who called the report “the tip of the iceberg” and said he was “the Haredi Jeffrey Epstein.” The source went on to say,
“Meshi[-Zahav] was a despicable man and everyone in Mea Shearim knew it. Everyone's been talking about it since I was born, and I personally know names of people who have slept with him. It's no secret. We're talking about loads of people.
For him, everything goes – women, children, boys and girls, and if animals could talk and tell their stories, I've no doubt we would've found out he was playing around with them too. Everything that moves, essentially."
Another source speaking to The Times of Israel says that the community “modesty patrols” of which Meshi-Zahav was once a key member had an “enforcement plan” to deal with the situation internally, so to speak. They caught him “in the act,” but he escaped,
“The plan was to simply castrate him. A number of patrol members broke into an apartment where he did what he did, and caught him red-handed — but Meshi-Zahav managed to slip away. He was so close to being beaten to a pulp where circumcision is performed.”
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the accusations are, “terrible things. I hope this is not true. This is unacceptable.” As with Jeffrey Epstein in the United States, it simply isn’t believable that Israel’s political class was not aware of accusations against Meshi-Zahav, especially as they had been formally investigated more than once.
On March 15th, Meshi-Zahav went to the police voluntarily in what was described as a “publicity stunt” and was turned away due to him not having been summoned for an interview and because no charges had been filed. On March 17th formal charges were filed against Meshi-Zahav. Though the accusations in the Haaretz investigation were past the statute of limitations, a different woman came forward saying he had assaulted her in a hotel room 4 year prior. For his part, it was reported that Meshi-Zahav would say all of his sexual encounters were consensual, and generally for money or gifts. This in and of itself is depraved, given that many of the accusations are from people who were minors at the time, and it would mean he was using largesse he gained as the head of a religious charity to corrupt members of the community. Further, same-sex relations and sodomizing women are generally severely prohibited under the Halakhah law which Orthodox Jews are meant to place above civil laws [and Israel does have legally recognized Rabbinical Courts which oversee some matters for the faithful.]
At this point, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav was fully disgraced and separated from the Zaka organizations, but this was not the end of Zaka’s problems. In fact, the press had known something was wrong at the august Zaka Search and Rescue organization for at least around a decade, and had done good work exposing it. Now that the public was ready to hear about Zaka’s corruption, the press had no shortage of material to work with.
Abusing the Zaka Name
I don’t do a lot of financial reporting, so I asked a friend who said he had a background in bookkeeping for some non-profits to look at the research I conducted above, and make sure I wasn’t making any drastic errors due to my own ignorance. He emphasized that many of the things discovered could have innocent explanations, or weren’t unusual for a non-profit of the size they purport to be. That looks much different when you know you are dealing with people with a history of using multiple organizations of the same name for what appears to be the purpose of misleading donors. Zaka Location, Rescue, and Lifesaving, or Zaka Jerusalem, by whatever name they want to use, has had a history of severe financial issues since at least the early 2000s, just over five years after it was formally incorporated.
On Wednesday, the 18th, just a day after charges were filed against Meshi-Zahav, Channel 13, a private free broadcast network, ran an extensive story documenting Zaka’s history of alleged financial improprieties. The original broadcast investigation does not appear to be on the English language internet, but The Times of Israel covered their findings alongside other information they had discovered about the organization. In the early 2000’s, Zaka began to have court appointed trustees due to “massive debt to workers, suppliers, companies, and the tax authorities.” This was during the Second Intifada, so there would have been a lot of casualty incidents to respond to, and the fact that Israel was in crisis makes it somewhat impressive that Zaka’s financial situation got bad enough to have such a trustee appointed. When Israel became more peaceful, and casualty events, and thus donations, went down, things got worse for Zaka.
A 2013 investigation by Kalman Liebeskind found what appears to be an enormous degree of financial corruption by the Meshi-Yahav family. In 2009, Zaka settled a lawsuit that also involved the appointment of a trustee who was supposed to get 28% of all of Zaka’s income in order to pay “heavy debts” to such parties. In an incredible and hilarious coincidence, one of these trustees, the Tel Aviv attorney Shimshon Maron, received a cold call in 2011 asking for a donation to the Zaka Association. Maron told the nice young woman on the phone he would be happy to donate if she would send him all of the information, including the Section 46 information to make it tax deductible- in this instance serving the same role as the EINs in the United States from earlier in this article. What the lawyer discovered when he received the information is that it was being presented as the company he was a trustee over, but was an entirely different entity, ran by Yehuda and his brother Remi- the one later convicted of sex crimes against his daughter. They were using it to hide donations from the court mandated trustee while huge amounts of money went unaccounted for and were even providing receipts in the charity’s name. Maron went to court and filed a fraud complaint, in pursuit of collecting the money the creditors he represented were owed. The public tax records show that in total in a four year period they declared what would be over $2 million US dollars at current exchange rates as going to this other Zaka. Only small amounts were ever transferred to the main Zaka, some years none at all. All of this was happening while the organization that actually helps people had severe financial problems impacting its ability to respond to casualty incidents.
At the time that the Zaka charity was facing bankruptcy while being profligate in its spending, Yehuda was in the same situation in his personal life. In court for debts he claimed hardship and that he could lose his home, but he was also booking family vacations in 5 Star hotels, and in some instances trying to pay for them with bad checks. The Google auto-translation of the complaint a hotelier sent to the hotel association warning them that Meshi-Zahav didn’t pay reads as follows,
“We would like to inform you that Mr. Yehuda Meshi-Zahav owes the hotel Kibbutz Lavi for private accommodation a total of about NIS 25,00. An enforcement case was opened against Mr. Meshi-Zahav and it turned out that he has a consolidation case whose debts exceeded one million NIS. Since this is a known Jew, there may be a tendency to trust him and his checks.”
The last line is somewhat comical translated and to someone who doesn’t live in Israel, but this is what Yehuda did his whole career: use his outward appearance as a devout Haredi to convince people he was trustworthy, be it to get a loan or access to a person’s child.
Moshe was the more open villain of the family’s story. He lived some sort of dissolute and spendthrift life in the United States as a young man. According to this same investigation, he spent 6 months in a US federal prison in the mid ‘90s for a scheme to defraud Las Vegas casinos. When interviewed by Liebenskind about the irregular finances of the extra Zaka, he showed no remorse and simply claimed that he had freely spent the money on Zaka activities even if there was not oversight. Moshe spent several years abroad after fleeing the sex crimes investigation described above, where he traveled around soliciting donations to things called Zaka from wealthy Jews. In one notable instance, he got $60,000 from a Brazilian Jew named Max Plaskin for an ambulance which was never bought. This same Plaskin had been taken on a heavily controlled “tour” of Israel in order to manipulate him into a large donation. A different report also from the Maariv newspaper which ran this investigation is said to have found that they told multiple donors they had provided the same motorcycle, simply changing the plaque celebrating the donor on it. Moshe returned to Israel in 2020 and died at the end of that year, which some sources attributed to covid; he was 59.
Eitan Erez, one of many trustees appointed to overseeing this Zaka throughout the years, in 2012 called the company’s fundraising a “free for all.” He describes that they had contacts, with Moshe often their point-man, in the United States, Mexico, Panama, France and Hong Kong, along with other countries, and of course that’s just what he was able to discover. He said, “The credibility of the reports of some of the contacts concerning the donated funds is problematic, to put it mildly.” Of course, people thought they were donating to the main Zaka because of the organization name and the fact that they were speaking to a Meshi-Zahav. He said of the organization run by Remi,“the situation today is that the company raises the funds and does with them what it wants.” Yehuda described the situation in court as an informal agreement where the other Zaka donated a percentage of its money, but this doesn’t appear to have happened. Further, a 2012 affidavit submitted to the court by Remi said he could transfer the funds to “any Zaka organization he chose,” which as we have learned, was quite broad leeway. The Times of Israel found 2013 court records from Jerusalem showing that the organization was ordered to transfer over 2 million shekels and all of its vehicles to the real charity, and to stop fundraising using the name Zaka. In 2015 the company was ordered to be liquidated for not having done so. While Yehuda sold his shares in 2014, as of 2021 the company was still legally operational, though appeared to be dormant. For all of this, the police closed the 2013 investigation citing “a lack of public interest,” because apparently it’s not a matter of public interest if a major public safety charity has a severe problem with financial corruption. The Channel 13 investigation found that various groups continued to fund-raise in Zaka’s name until at least 2019, and the investigation having been in early 2021 that was the most recent tax year with available records at that time.
Zaka’s response to the story, coming shortly after the sex abuse investigation, included the following lines,
“The reports of financial impropriety to events that occurred many years ago. At that time, the ZAKA Search and Rescue organization sued the private company mentioned, and won. Over the last eight years, under its current management ZAKA has received praise and approval for proper financial management time after time. Presenting the allegations without context knowingly and intentionally misleads the public, and harms thousands of the organization’s volunteers and employees.”
As this investigation has shown, their fundraisers in the United States appear to be doing a very similar thing, most of the same leadership was in Zaka at the time, and it doesn’t appear that they did sue that organization, but instead that a trustee appointed to force them to pay their debts had filed a fraud complaint. It is possible that this Zaka sued that Zaka during the process, but I did not notice a reference to that in my extensive research, nor did I come across any indication that Zaka has been praised for good financial management.
This leaves us with one last question: does Zaka have thousands of volunteers?
The Charity of Unknown Size
At the end of 2022, Zaka ran into yet more problems. As if the alleged sex crimes and persistent financial problems were not enough, a new Haaretz investigation obtained documents and testimony from people within the organization showing that Zaka had been inflating its volunteer numbers for years. It isn’t unusual that an organization would inflate its volunteer levels to impress donors, and for example women who help stuff fundraising mailers or serve food at organization picnics could fairly be called volunteers [Haredis have a highly gender segregated society, I haven’t seen any women doing the main work of Zaka.] The problem is that since 2015 Zaka has received funding from the State of Israel, and those funding levels are based on the number of volunteers, and that also comes with training requirements. All of the public statements from Zaka figures say that they have thousands of volunteers, including the 2019 interview with Yossi Landau who says they have over 3000 volunteers. The Haaretz investigation found they do not have even 1000 volunteers meeting the definition for receiving state funding, and alleges that they have wrongfully received millions of shekels from the Israeli government as a result of inflating volunteer numbers.
Haaretz reports that Zaka first received 1.3 million shekels from the government in 2015, the support peaked at 3.4 million in 2018, and they received 2.6 million in 2019 and 2020. The report describes this as being the majority of the organization’s funding. They do not describe how they ascertained this information, though one assumes it is from their publicly available tax forms in Hebrew which I have been unable to access [Wikipedia cites a PDF of a 2017 tax form in Hebrew which it says shows the organization had a budget of around $1,000,000.] At 2020 exchange rates 2.6 million shekels was roughly $750,000 USD. In 2020, as per the IRS form above, Zaka Search and Rescue Inc in the United States sent around $680,000 in direct grants to the Middle East. With Zaka fundraising around the world and in Israel, these numbers wouldn’t add up, except that Zaka Search and Rescue Inc answered “No” to the question “Was the organization as U.S. transferor of property to a foreign corporation during the tax year.” In reality, we don’t know where that money went and if it went to any Zaka corporation at all, but it would not be likely that Zaka’s total revenues from sources besides Zaka Search and Rescue Inc and the Israeli Government would be under 70,000 annually [on top of which, Zaka North Inc was still operating in some capacity in 2020.] One way or another, with what we know about Zaka’s fundraising activities one would imagine $750,000 should not be the majority of their budget.
According to what Haaretz discovered from documents and talking to 10 different people, it appears Zaka has at most 1000 volunteers. The 2021 list that they obtained of volunteers around Jerusalem, the main area they serve, has only around 250 names. in 2021 Zaka claimed to have 3,846 volunteers, the exact number the website currently shows despite that the graphic shows the numbers rising as if it is a live update. A man described as a “major organization operative” gave the following quote,
“If you count everyone, including logistics people, then there’s around 1,000 volunteers. Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh have no more than 150 volunteers. The organization makes stuff up in the official documents to get budgets.”
Throughout all of this, this has been the first internal quote alleging intentional wrongdoing from the organization. Haaretz references a Channel 14 interview where CEO Dubi Weissenstern said they had “1,000 volunteers who work with the police” and then clarified “close to 1,000.” It is not clear how or why Zaka would need almost 3 support staff per person who goes to accident scenes, or as Haaretz says, “insofar as they exist.” A police document from 2021 shows Zaka has 850 volunteers cleared to enter accident scenes.
The requirement from the Interior Ministry is initial training as well as training every 6 months. The 10 sources who spoke to Haaretz said they had not done any training in 2 years, and another claimed to have not received training in 10 years. Another volunteer said he was never trained at all, and is quoted as saying, “I didn’t do any courses. The organization is crumbling. Everybody inside knows it.” It’s not surprising the organization would be crumbling, given the history of misdirected donations and the events of 2021. Surely no one from Zaka is happy about the terrible events happening in Israel, but it is undeniably helping their status at a time when they desperately need it. The combination of a lack of training training and potential desperation due to the organization’s poor institutional health creates a situation where Zaka volunteers are unlikely to meet the standards of professionalism for something as important as accurately describing terrorist attacks to the media.
When approached by Haaretz about these irregularities, the Interior Ministry released a mostly boilerplate statement, though acknowledged a complaint about an organization submitting false data had been received and that an investigation was ongoing. They also said they reserve the right to recover any money wrongfully disbursed, though previously the courts had to assign trustees to force Zaka to pay the Israeli government- and then the Yeshi-Zahav’s allegedly engineered a scheme to avoid doing so, though it was “not in the public interest” to pursue the matter to the point of getting a legal determination. The Interior Ministry also claimed they do not keep any lists of such volunteers. However, in response to a Freedom of Information request, they admitted they did have a list but would not release it in order to protect the privacy of the volunteers, something which could have easily served its purpose heavily redacted, being as a first name and last initial of volunteers would have provided what Haaretz needed. This appear to fall into a long-standing pattern of the Israeli government protecting Zaka and Meshi-Zahav.
For Zaka’s part, they continued their pattern of denials and counter accusations, telling Haaretz,
“The article is replete with lies, inaccuracies, and half-truths. As Israel’s rescue organization, Zaka operates some 4,000 volunteers, and operates throughout the country from north to south. Its volunteers are divided into seven districts, and each district has a commander and borders. All the volunteers operate under the Zaka organization or Zaka Tel Aviv, which belongs to Tel Aviv District, and all Zaka volunteers which report to the authorities undergo periodic training throughout the year. We regret that rather than have organizations that committed deliberate fraud being outlawed, their false allegations are given a platform by the newspaper.”
This is truly incredible. Everything I have seen in the process of writing this article- including this Haaretz report- has shown that Zaka Tel Aviv is an entirely different organization founded by a man named Zvi Hassad. As far as I know Zaka Tel Aviv is not involved in any of these behaviors, and have probably had their reputation unfairly damaged by all of the accusations against Yehuda Meshi-Zahav and the organization he founded.
An Ignominious End to Israel’s Most Useful Man
On April 21st, 2021, just over a month after formal charges were filed, Meshi-Zahav was rushed to the hospital. At the time it was believed he would soon be arrested as more cases within the statute of limitations had been discovered, and the police investigation began to expand into a suspected “cover up” by high-level members of Zaka and the Haredi community. He had been found unconscious by one of his children at his apartment in West Bank settlement of Givat Ze’ev. He had hanged himself, but was able to be resuscitated. i24 News quoted a friend who had spoken to him the day before as saying, “He didn't deny the allegations against him, he says there are things he had no control over,” which is basically how Peter Lorre explains being a serial killer of children at the end of the classic Fritz Lang film M. Meshi-Zahav’s condition was stabilized, but he remained in a coma.
“I’m sorry. I have already received my punishment. Try to remember the good I did. Always try to remember what I forgot: ‘There is an eye that sees and an ear that hears, and all your deeds are written down.
“I have always loved, and am very ashamed. Yehuda.”
The note was publicized by the Kan public broadcaster, but two of Meshi-Zahav’s sons said the note was fake, and further that they would pursue a police complaint over its publication. His sons then produced what they claimed was the real suicide note. The published part of the note read,
“We live in a brutal world, more brutal than the animal world. You brought against me a pack a lies, on the verge of absurd: pedophile, necrophile — only cannibal is missing.”
The letter reportedly included no apology or remorse. It is understandable that Meshi-Zahav would try to end his own life, and a murderer likely would have “finished the job,” but it can only be possible that one of the notes is true, so something is rotten. Meshi-Zahav’s family claimed that it was not his signature or handwriting in the first note. For myself, I find it hard to believe if he was as described that he would be capable of remorse, at least beyond regretting that he was finally exposed. At the time it was unknown if he would live or die, so it is possible the party or parties behind either note could have been considering his court case. Studies have shown that in over half of cases people don’t leave suicide notes, so it is possible neither note was authentic, especially in an instance like this where no one would be left wondering why he killed himself.
As with most religions, suicide is seen as a serious sin in Judaism. Among Israel’s Orthodox community, it is commonly covered up or portrayed as an accident for the benefit of the family. By tradition, suicides are buried separately and their family does not sit in Shiva mourning their death. There is such a strong taboo that it can even effect the marriageability of their remaining family members. Ancient Rabbinical authorities established a high bar for what constitutes a suicide, and modern Rabbis will commonly find a reason to rule a death to not have been suicide so that the family can perform traditional ceremonies. Most notably, the man has to kill himself knowingly, called lada’at in Hebrew, meaning something like “while of sound mind.” In certain circumstances it has been argued that suicide is allowed under Jewish law when facing extreme persecution, such as the mass suicide at Masada, which is lionized in modern Israeli culture.
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav never woke up from the coma. He died on June, 29th 2022 at age 62. Meshi-Zahav is buried at the ancient Jewish cemetery on the famed Mount of Olives, in a quiet corner reserved for those who took their own lives in violation of religious law. The relevant religious authorities must have found that he was of sound mind and not facing extreme persecution when he chose to kill himself instead of facing his accusers and establishing his guilt or innocence in civil and religious courts. We will never know how many people who encountered Yehuda Meshi-Zahav later killed themselves.
Conclusion: The Best Actions Hiding the Worst Corruption
As I said earlier, I wasn’t sure if I should embark on this project, given the sensitivity of investigating a search and rescue organization following a mass casualty event. Having finished, no one who has read this could deny that there was a story here, and one which deserved to be told. Perhaps the first lesson is that some surface level transparency can go a long way in hiding the activities you don’t want to the world to see, as I likely would have dropped it if they simply had a page giving some information about their finances. It seems there is also some peril to proudly displaying a Samantha Power quote on your NGO’s website, especially when she is praising a man by name who happens to be accused of being a serial pedophile. However, what drove me to pursue this the most was Zaka Location, Rescue, and Lifesaving’s UN Observer Status, and the likelihood that Yossi Landau or someone else from the organization would ultimately testify at the United Nations or other international bodies, for the purpose of justifying responding to atrocities with atrocities.
Though many civilians surely died in the attack on the Tribe of Nova music festival, and every one of those deaths is tragic, it has been established by this investigation that organizations like the Associated Press should not be using Zaka as a source for claims that 260 people were killed. Zaka’s volunteers are alleged to be improperly trained and have a history of irresponsible statements to the media, while they were also surely too busy dealing with individual bodies to be counting the total. At the same time, Zaka’s leadership is compromised by their association with Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, and the organization’s persistent financial problems- whatever the cause- give them an established incentive to make sensational claims to gain public notice and get the donations that come with it. Some may ask “Does it really matter if 260 people died instead of 250, or 150? Does it matter if a pregnant woman was shot to death instead of having a fetus cut out of her stomach and stabbed?” I suppose in some ways it doesn’t, but people making and supporting these claims obviously think it does, or they wouldn’t be so hostile to everyone questioning their veracity. Further, I believe that the truth and accuracy in reporting are their own goods, come what may. Even if there were exactly 260 dead at the concert, it doesn’t change the fact that Zaka is not a credible source and that it is irresponsible for a major wire service to use them as one regarding such an important claim.
This is an incredible story about moral and financial corruption lurking below the surface of those who wore the halo. It isn’t far-fetched to wonder if Israel’s security services always knew about Yehuda Meshi-Zahav’s alleged crimes, and it is what they used to make him turn on his community and supposed beliefs to become such a uniquely valuable person in the service of the State of Israel. It certainly seems as if some activities of which him and his organization are suspected should have been stopped a long time ago. Besides Yehuda Meshi-Zahav’s accusers, the real victims appear to be those who donated to Zaka and its every day volunteers, who are likely good people who want to do the important and difficult work of helping families facing the tragedy of losing a loved one to violence.
There are heroes in this story too, though: the fearless reporters who did the crucial and often thankless work of exposing corruption in society that the government can’t or won’t deal with. The Israeli media has done an incredible job on this issue, and provided a shining example of the best things about the “Fourth Estate.” I am grateful to the Israeli journalists who came before me and made it possible for me to tell this story. At the same time, it appears that I am the first one to deeply examine the American Zaka groups and find that they appear to follow a similar pattern to what has been discovered in Israel.
It is perhaps understated to say that you may want to think twice before giving money to any organization with Zaka in the name, and certainly before believing their public statements.
As of October, 17th, 2023, the Zaka World website had raised over $2 million US dollars in the 10 days since the October 7th attacks. They have already met and raised their donation goal at least once. Donations are tax deductible under the EIN 46-0567613, which is Zaka North Inc ran by Ezekiel Farkas. They have not publicly reported revenues of over $50,000 since 2016, when they claimed $560,000. Under 1/3rd of that money was reported as having gone to disaster relief in the Middle East, and they answered “No” to the question of if any of it went to a foreign organization. It will be years before we can access Zaka North Inc’s 2023 tax forms and discover how much money they claimed for this year and what they reported having done with it. It seems unlikely that we will ever learn what Zaka organization or activities, if any, the money was used to support upon its arrival in Israel, if it arrives in Israel at all.
If you wish to help victims of violence in West Asia- or anywhere else- you should thoroughly research which organizations are credible and responsible before sending any money. You would hate for it to end up supporting someone like Yehuda Meshi-Zahav.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be construed as an accusation against any person or organization. Yehuda Meshi-Zahav ended his own life before the accusations against him were decided in court. Everything included in this investigation came from publicly available information or media reports. I have not been in contact with or attempted to contact any person or organization mentioned, besides making one phone call to the phone number Zaka North Inc listed on its 2016 990 form to see if it was active [it did not work at that time.] I have done my best to be accurate, and everything in this article was published in good faith. However, accuracy is challenging due to the multiplicity of Zaka organizations and the lack of clear disclosures. If anyone mentioned in the article feels that they or the Zaka organizations have been misrepresented I would first recommend being more transparent if you wish to avoid such confusion. If anyone wishes to contact me to make a public statement or clarification, I can be contacted at the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. I will update the article with any relevant statements I receive and possibly edit for clarification within the body of the piece, as I deem appropriate.
Thank you for reading! The Wayward Rabbler is written by Brad Pearce. If you enjoyed this content please subscribe and share. My main articles will always be free but paid subscriptions help me a huge amount. I have a tip jar at Ko-Fi where generous patrons can donate in $5 increments. Join my Telegram channel The Wayward Rabbler. My Facebook page is The Wayward Rabbler. You can see my shitposting and serious commentary on Twitter @WaywardRabbler.