A Sainsbury’s branch emptied its kosher food shelf after the manager feared anti-Israeli protesters outside would attack it, the supermarket giant has said. Meats, cheeses and sauces were removed from a Sainsbury’s Local branch in Holborn, central London, as it was picketed by demonstrators who were calling on the grocer to boycott Israeli goods.
UK Daily Mail The incident yesterday afternoon happened on the same day anti-Israeli activists ‘wreaked havoc’ at a Birmingham branch of Tesco when a demonstration got out of hand. Actor Colin Appleby took a photo of the empty shelf, prompting uproar online as hundreds condemned the grocer for appearing to succumb to the demands of the protesters.
People also pointed out that many of the goods were not from Israel and instead came from nations including Britain and Poland. Mr Appleby wrote that a staff member defended the decision by stating: ‘We support Free Gaza’. When he then pointed out the distinction between Israeli and kosher goods, staff ‘walked away’, he wrote.
The move yesterday sparked online accusations of anti-Semitism by the grocer – despite the Sainsbury family’s well-documented Jewish ancestry dating back as far as the 19th century. Sainsbury’s insisted the decision was taken in case protesters hurled food from the shelves, which would then have to be thrown away.
But Facebook user Gavin Platman made a formal complaint about the incident, which happened half a mile from the company’s headquarters at London’s Holborn Circus. He wrote to Sainsbury’s: ‘I presume you are aware that Kosher food is produced in countries other than Israel? You are therefore not making a political statement against Israel but instead are targeting a group based on race – i.e. Jews.
As a Jew I find this deeply offensive. Naturally I am against the death of innocent children in Gaza so why are you persecuting me by denying me the right to buy Kosher food? ‘I presume you are also removing Halal food in protest against the Islamic State slaughtering Yazidis. Clearly not – therefore you have blurred the line between political statement and hate crime.’
Former Tory MP Louise Mensch also waded into the row, writing on Twitter:
Pro-Palestinian protesters in Britain have long urged supporters to boycott Israeli goods, though not kosher goods, to send a message to Israel over its blockade of Gaza. The incident yesterday happened on the same day as demonstrators ‘wreaked havoc’ in a Tesco store after a protest against its stocking of Israeli food got out of hand. Protesters accused of hurling produce and attacking police at the supermarket in Hodge Hill, Birmingham, are being hunted by officers.
It is understood similar protests at Israeli military action in Gaza have taken place outside Tesco stores in Rochdale and Sale in Greater Manchester, Blackburn and Luton. A march involving 1,500 people in Cardiff last month led to criticism of the police after footage emerged of violence erupting. Tesco sells fruit, peppers, potatoes and herbs from Israel, along with branded goods. A spokesman said: ‘We do this in line with the Government position on trade with Israel, and we mark all products clearly with the country of origin, so customers can make informed choices about what to buy.’
Mr Appleby returned to the branch this evening and found the kosher food shelf had been fully reinstated, adding: ‘Sainsbury’s assure me the staff member has been suitably chastised.’ The firm admitted the kosher food was removed but challenged Mr Appleby’s version of events.
A Sainsbury’s spokesman told MailOnline there was ‘no evidence’ that a staff member had made the ‘Free Gaza’ comment and instead the decision was taken to stop protesters damaging the food. The spokesman added: ‘It was the manager’s decision there and then – not company policy at all. We are a non-political organisation and we’re not coming down on either side of the argument.