A Sainsbury's branch removed kosher food from its shelves over fears that anti-Israeli protesters would attack it.
The branch manager of the store in Holborn, central London ordered the section to be emptied on Saturday afternoon, while protesters outside picketed it calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. The move prompted outrage after a photo of the empty shelves was posted on social media.
Colin Appleby, who took the photo, said the kosher section contained food made in the UK and Poland. He added that a staff member defended the decision, saying: "We support Free Gaza."
"I didn't try to point out that kosher goods were not Israeli goods but they walked away," he wrote on Facebook.
Louise Mensch, the former Tory MP, accused Sainsbury's of racism, writing on Twitter: "Dear @Sainsburys kosher is JEWISH food. Israel is a COUNTRY. How DARE YOU equate Jews' food to ISRAEL, how dare you #EverydayAntisemitism"
"@Sainsbury's are the scum of the earth as a company for taking away kosher food rather than contacting police. Evil racism from them."
"Racism outside the @Sainsburys store, racism inside the @sainsburys store, nothing but #EverydayAntisemitism involved in removal kosher food."
A complaint to Sainsbury's by Facebook user Gavin Platman said the move blurred the line between a political statement and a hate crime. He wrote: "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."
A spokesperson for Sainsbury's said it was "an absolutely non-political organisation" and said the food was returned to the shelves "as soon as was practically possible".
"It was an isolated decision made by in a very challenging situation," she said. "It was chilled food and he was simply trying to preserve it."
She denied the decision was racist and said that there would be no investigation or action taken against the branch manager.
"It was the manager's decision there and then – not company policy at all. We have had similar demonstrations at stores where people have gone in and removed goods, though no great damage was done. A decision was taken by a store manager faced with a challenging situation outside the store."
In a separate Free Gaza protest in Birmingham on Saturday, police arrested a man after a group waving Palestinian flags burst into a Tesco store and threw produce on the ground. The Hodge Hill Tesco branch was forced to close for a few minutes. West Midlands police tweeted: "Protest was largely peaceful among the 100 protesters but some began throwing stock inside Tesco store. Two escorted from premises."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010