Sainsbury's is facing a barrage of condemnation after a manager of its Holborn branch decided to remove kosher food products from shelves because of fears that anti-Israeli protesters would vandalise the store.
On Saturday (16 August), pro-Palestinian demonstrators calling for a boycott of Israeli goods gathered outside the shop, leading to the store manager to have kosher products removed from shelves.
The move attracted accusations of anti-Semitism and that Sainsbury’s was making a political statement, though others have pointed out that kosher products are Jewish rather than necessarily Israeli, with many of them manufactured in countries including the UK.
Sainsbury's explained that the decision was taken as a "precautionary measure" to protect products, rather than to make a political point.
Colin Appleby, who was in the store at the time, took a picture of the empty shelves and challenged staff, posting about his experience on Twitter. He claimed that upon asking a member of staff about why it had removed products, they responded: "We support a free Gaza".
He added: "I didn't try to point out that kosher goods were not Israeli goods but they walked away."
He followed his initial posts with a tweet updating his followers with an image of the restocked shelves, adding "@sainsbury’s assure me the staff member has been suitably chastised".
Reaction to Sainsbury’s move has been met with anger, with the tweets of former Tory MP Louise Mensch particularly vitriolic, decrying Sainsbury’s as "scum of the earth".
.@Sainsbury's are the scum of the earth as a company for taking away kosher food rather than contacting police. Evil racism from them— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) August 17, 2014
Sainbury’s itself has responded to the furore, with a spokesperson saying that the food was returned to shelves and describing the supermarket as "non-political" and the removal of kosher products as "an isolated decision in a very challenging situation".
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson added: "We would like to apologise for any inconvenience or offence caused.
"The decision was taken in one store only to move these chilled products to cold storage elsewhere in that store for a short period on Saturday as a precautionary measure during a demonstration close by. They were returned to shelf as soon as was practically possible. Our ambient (store cupboard temperature) kosher range was kept on sale in store throughout.
"As a non-political organisation, Sainsbury's would never take such a decision on grounds other than ensuring the quality or safety of our products."
Meanwhile, in a branch of Tesco in Birmingham at the weekend, police arrested a man who was throwing produce around in another Free Gaza protest.
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