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The empty shelves in Sainsbury’s Holborn branch

The Israel-Hamas conflict has spilt out onto the British high street, with kosher food removed at a Sainsbury’s store in central London and demonstrators in Birmingham targeting Israeli produce.

In London, Sainsbury’s apologised after its Holborn branch emptied the kosher food section “as a precautionary measure” when the manager feared it would be attacked by anti-Israel protesters picketing the store outside. 

Photos of the bare shelves were posted online, which led to an immediate social media backlash, with some questioning the store’s motives. 

One customer, actor Colin Appleby, said he had been told by staff that they “supported Free Gaza”.

Another complainant, Gavin Platman, wrote to Sainsbury’s saying: “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.”

In a statement, Sainsbury’s said: “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.”

It added: “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.”

Jo Simmons, a company spokeswoman, confirmed later that although it was an error, the manager had not been removed or reprimanded.

She also confirmed that there had been “learning points” arising from the incident but that it would not result in any new guidance or training.

A 'buycott' protest held outside Sainsbury's on Monday.

A ‘buycott’ protest held outside Sainsbury’s on Monday.

Others however were less sanguine. Social commentator and Jewish News columnist Brendan O’Neill said: “It shines a light on the modern phenomenon of acquiescence to anti-Semitism, the rank unwillingness of influential people and institutions to face up to anti-Semitic sentiment and their preference for moulding the world around it rather than challenging it.”

The incident came on the same day that Palestinian supporters began hurling Israeli produce inside Tesco’s Hodge Hill store in Birmingham, after more than 100 people turned up to protest against Israeli military action in Gaza.

 Similar protests have taken place outside Tesco stores in Rochdale, Sale, Manchester, Blackburn and Luton, because the retail giant sells fruit, peppers, potatoes and herbs from Israel, along with branded goods.

A Tesco spokesman said: “In line with the Government position on trade with Israel, we mark all products clearly with the country of origin, so customers can make informed choices about what to buy.”