Chairman and Founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav has lashed out against the recent wave of ultra-Orthodox violence in the strongest possible terms, comparing their actions to those of terrorists.
In a status update on his Facebook page that reaches close to 20,000 people, Meshi-Zahav asked: “Master of the Universe, what is the difference between terrorists and Sikrikim?”
His comments came after a recent trend of violent attacks
perpetrated by haredi extremists in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh in the name of religious zealotry.
Sikrikim is the name given to a fringe anti-Zionist vigilante group with loose links to Neturei Karta that is said to have been at the head of many of the violent protests and attacks.
In what became an opinion article on haredi community website Behadrei Haredim, the ZAKA founder argued that "there would be outcry if terrorists dressed up as haredim, attacked a bus in Mea Shearim, broke its windows and injured innocent men, women and children.
"However, if haredim themselves did the same in the name of religious zealotry, it would somehow be seen as acceptable by the community.”
In an unparalleled assault against those behind the recent violence, Meshi-Zahav asserted, “This has been going on for too long, these so-called haredi hooligans have wreaked havoc through harassment and violence. It doesn’t really matter how they justify the actions, often they are just bored and find excuses later.
"Whatever the reason, they cannot be allowed to go on like this, at the expense of innocent men, women and children, whose only crime is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The ZAKA chairman went on to suggest that "they cry out against blasphemy in every realm, but the greatest desecration of God’s name is their actions, there can be no justification for mindless terror perpetrated against innocent bystanders in the name of ideology.”
Meshi-Zahav himself is no stranger to ultra-Orthodox protests and riots. Having grown up in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, he spent 30 years as an activist in the Eda Haredit and was arrested tens of times for protesting against the ‘Zionist establishment’.
His lifestyle and thinking changed completely in the 1990s, after witnessing the suicide bombings that tore apart families and society – regardless of religious or political affiliations.
This complete shift from anti-Zionist to a leader within Israeli society found its ultimate expression in 2003, when Meshi-Zahav was chosen to light the torch at the official Independence Day celebrations on Mount Herzl.
Since founding ZAKA in 1995, the 53-year-old father of seven has gained a reputation as an authority in international rescue and recovery and is one of Israel's
greatest champions of tolerance and understanding across all cultural and religious lines.
Meshi-Zahav continues to promote pluralism and tolerance within Israeli society, working to change the perceptions and narrow the gaps between the religious and secular in Israel, as well as reaching out to Israel’s minority communities who make up an integral part of ZAKA’s volunteer force.