Never again: Sainsbury's pledge over removing kosher food

Sainsbury's has more than 1,200 stores

Sainsbury's has more than 1,200 stores

EXCLUSIVE

Sainsbury’s has said it will never again remove kosher products from its shelves.

The statement came after Jewish customers had responded furiously to food being hidden by the manager of a central London branch in expectation of a threat from anti-Israel activists.

The company had initially said it would not introduce a national policy instructing managers how to deal with protesters.

But, after being approached by the JC, Sainsbury’s shifted its position and said it wanted to reassure Jewish customers.

“This will not happen again,” corporate affairs director Trevor Datsun said. “Managers will be told not to move kosher food because of some perceived threat. It should not have happened and, explicitly, it cannot happen again.”

The supermarket chain, which has 1,200 stores, had earlier apologised after kosher items were removed from a fridge display in Holborn as a precaution against possible attack last Saturday.

A spokeswoman contacted on Monday said the manager had made an “error of judgment”. Items including kosher dips, meat and fish, remained on sale elsewhere in the store.

The spokeswoman suggested recent violent incidents and demonstrations outside stores had partly led to the manager’s concern.

Staff from the Board of Deputies held a “buycott” outside Sainsbury’s on Monday, encouraging shoppers to buy more Israeli goods. Conservative MPs condemned Sainsbury’s actions, writing to chief executive Michael Cope and to David Cameron.

Enfield Southgate MP David Burrowes said: “How was the threat to the kosher food linked to the nearby protest about Israel?”

Andrew Percy, MP for Brigg and Goole, said: “Sainsbury’s should never have given in to thugs and bullies… It is a very sad day for Sainsbury’s and for the UK.”

A major disturbance by an anti-Israel gang at a Tesco store in Birmingham, also on Saturday, led to one man being arrested. A group shouting and brandishing Palestinian flags entered the store and attacked products threatening staff and customers before clashing with police.

Naveed Zafar, of Naseby Road, Alum Rock, was arrested and charged with two counts of assault and three of assaulting a police officer. He appeared in court on Monday and was bailed until November.

A Tesco spokesman said: “The demonstration took place mainly outside the store. There was some minimal damage to a few goods inside. Police were on the scene and the store reopened after just a few minutes.”

Earlier this month, both Tesco and Sainsbury’s said they would not bow to pressure from protesters targeting Israeli products. Tesco had reported demonstrations at around 20 of its stores. Four branches of Sainsbury’s were temporarily closed at the height of the Gaza conflict as activists gathered outside.

The Labour Party — whose leader Ed Miliband has repeatedly stated his opposition to boycotts of Israel — said it had spoken to shadow cabinet member Shabana Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Ladywood, who had been among those demonstrating outside a Sainsbury’s in the city three weeks ago. A party spokesman said no action would be taken ag-ainst the MP.

Ms Mahmood had been filmed celebrating the store’s temporary closure and urging further such action but, after the violent scenes in Tesco this week, she appealed for protests to remain peaceful.

Mike Freer, Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, said: “Once again we see the ugly side of Labour and the weakness of Miliband. His unwillingness or inability to rein in a front-bench spokeswoman who is encouraging these sort of targeted attacks speaks volumes.”

The Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council said trade unions must denounce the intimidation of staff after a number of unions supported protests that had led to their own members being harassed.

The Trades Union Congress said: “No shop worker should face harassment or risk violence at their workplace”.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) said it understood that feelings were running high over Gaza but added: “Shopworkers should be able to go to work free from fear of violence, threats and abuse.”

Last updated: 11:45am, August 21 2014