LONDON – Anger has been expressed by Jewish communal leaders at the way Britain’s third largest supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, cleared its fridge shelves displaying kosher products at the central London store in Holborn when facing a protest against Israel’s actions in Gaza.
The supermarket later apologized for the move, which it blamed on a store manager attempting to limit the potential losses in the face of a possibility that the protesters would invade the shop and try to damage or destroy the contents of the fridge.
The incident on Saturday afternoon followed an attack earlier in the day at a branch of Britain’s largest supermarket, Tesco, at the Hodge Hill suburb of Birmingham where demonstrators damaged a range of kosher products as part of their protests over Gaza.
News of the London incident emerged when British actor Colin Appleby showed photographs he had taken of the empty fridge on social media outlets, which led to widespread comment – many of which noted that most of the kosher products removed from the display were not even Israeli products.
Items such as sliced meats and cheese products as well as the more usual range of kosher products such as humous all were rapidly removed when supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign arrived at the Holborn store, having previously advised their campaigners that they had changed the name of their event to “Holborn Sainsbury’s action – on the National Day of Local Actions for Gaza.”
Appleby noted in a comment linked to the photograph he had taken that a member of Sainsbury’s staff had defended the move, claiming “we support free Gaza.” And it was reported that when the shop worker was told there was a clear distinction between Israeli and kosher goods, he just “walked away.”
This, however, was strongly denied by a Sainsbury’s spokesman, who said it certainly was not company policy at all to remove products, and that the action had been undertaken simply to stop food from being damaged.
Ironically, the Sainsbury family is Jewish, and although not directly involved in the Jewish community, family members have traditionally been supporters of Israel. Tesco, too, was founded by Jewish entrepreneur Jack Cohen, though there are very few Jews still working in the company today.
The Birmingham incident appears to have been more serious. A small group from among 100 protesters broke into the store and threw a range of products around the crowded supermarket. It was forced to close for a short time, while the mess was cleared up.
One eyewitness described the group as hurling produce about and getting aggressive. Over 20 police officers attempted to restore order, but not before one man was arrested and two others were escorted off the premises. A Tesco spokesman later described the damage as “minimal,” pointing out that the store was closed only for “a few minutes.”
He added that the company was aware of a small number of protests outside its stores but made clear they had no intention of stopping stocking produce linked to Israel.
On Monday Naveed Zafar, 35, from Birmingham, appeared in court on a variety of assault charges, including three relating to a police officer.
He was bailed to return to the court on November 3.
Commenting on the weekend’s incidents, Community Security Trust spokesman Mark Gardner told The Jerusalem Post that the intimidation of supermarkets has occurred at dozens of locations in recent weeks, but it was “shocking to see kosher goods removed, even briefly, from a supermarket’s shelves. Hopefully, this will now focus attention on the problem of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bullying of commercial outlets.”
Also on Sunday, approximately 500 pro-Israel demonstrators held a rally at Brighton, where the only SodaStream retail outlet in Britain was forced to close down a few months ago. Those present were kept apart from a small group of Palestinian demonstrators by a heavy police presence.
They were addressed by Col. Richard Kemp and Efrat Mayor Oded Ravivi.