One of London’s biggest progressive synagogues has been accused of “waiting for media pressure to die down” before reinstating a senior rabbi accused of misconduct dating back to 2014.
A statement of behalf of Rabbi David Mitchell’s accusers described the West London Synagogue (WLS) investigation into claims of bullying and inappropriate conduct as “a total mess” saying the investigators “changed from a safeguarding team to a legal team with no explanation as to why”.
Mitchell took a leave of absence in January when the allegations surfaced, shortly after it was revealed that he had been appointed to jointly lead the famous synagogue upon the retirement of Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger.
This week the synagogue published the executive summary of an independent review undertaken by former High Court judge Sir Michael Burton, who concluded that the complaints could not be proven.
“Even if support for them could have been found without specific examples, they do not support a case for the rabbi’s suspension, particularly when set against his manifest talents and experience,” he said.
On Wednesday, the accusers – who have remained anonymous – said the investigation lacked both transparency and protection for current staff to speak freely about Mitchell.
“The process and contact details of how people could get in touch with the investigation were never publicly shared,” they said.
“Sir Michael was appointed a week before the closing date, amidst the global pandemic. New complaints from before 2016 were not taken to account and current staff were not promised anonymity which meant they did not feel safe coming forward, for fear of their jobs. It’s been a total mess.”
They added: “We’ve known for weeks that WLS’s board were waiting for media pressure to die down to reinstate Rabbi David. Now it’s even more critical than ever that the ethics processes at Reform Judaism and the Assembly of Rabbis are put in place to stop this happening again within our community.”
Mitchell is to jointly lead the synagogue with Rabbi Helen Freeman, with Rabbi Neil Janes having resigned in recent days. In an email to members, the shul said its investigation had “drawn a line” under the matter.