A Sainsbury's branch emptied its kosher food shelf after the manager feared anti-Israeli protesters outside would attack it, the supermarket giant has said.
Meats, cheeses and sauces were removed from a Sainsbury's Local branch in Holborn, central London, as it was picketed by demonstrators who were calling on the grocer to boycott Israeli goods.
The incident yesterday afternoon happened on the same day anti-Israeli activists 'wreaked havoc' at a Birmingham branch of Tesco when a demonstration got out of hand.
Actor Colin Appleby took a photo of the empty shelf, prompting uproar online as hundreds condemned the grocer for appearing to succumb to the demands of the protesters.
People also pointed out that many of the goods were not from Israel and instead came from nations including Britain and Poland.
Mr Appleby wrote that a staff member defended the decision by stating: 'We support Free Gaza'.
When he then pointed out the distinction between Israeli and kosher goods, staff 'walked away', he wrote.
The move yesterday sparked online accusations of anti-Semitism by the grocer – despite the Sainsbury family’s well-documented Jewish ancestry dating back as far as the 19th century.
Sainsbury's insisted the decision was taken in case protesters hurled food from the shelves, which would then have to be thrown away.
But Facebook user Gavin Platman made a formal complaint about the incident, which happened half a mile from the company's headquarters at London's Holborn Circus.
He wrote to Sainsbury's: '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.'
RISE IN ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENTS
The incident at the Sainbury's branch comes in the context of a rise in anti-Semitic attacks.
Last month Britain saw the second-most anti-Semitic incidents in any month since records began in 1984, according to a Jewish community organisation.
The Community Security Trust recorded 200 incidents in July, suggesting a huge increase since the Gaza conflict began on July 8.
The first six months of 2014 saw 304 anti-Semitic incidents, a 36 per cent rise on the same period last year, the Trust said.
The government's communities minister Stephen Williams met the Trust's directors on Wednesday to discuss the rise.
He said: 'It is more important than ever that in the face of the deeply upsetting events taking place in Gaza, Israel, Syria and Iraq that Britain’s many diverse communities stand united in supporting our shared British values of understanding and mutual respect.'
Pro-Palestinian protesters in Britain have long urged supporters to boycott Israeli goods, though not kosher goods, to send a message to Israel over its blockade of Gaza.
The incident yesterday happened on the same day as demonstrators ‘wreaked havoc’ in a Tesco store after a protest against its stocking of Israeli food got out of hand.
Protesters accused of hurling produce and attacking police at the supermarket in Hodge Hill, Birmingham, are being hunted by officers.
It is understood similar protests at Israeli military action in Gaza have taken place outside Tesco stores in Rochdale and Sale in Greater Manchester, Blackburn and Luton. A march involving 1,500 people in Cardiff last month led to criticism of the police after footage emerged of violence erupting.
Tesco sells fruit, peppers, potatoes and herbs from Israel, along with branded goods. A spokesman said: ‘We do this in line with the Government position on trade with Israel, and we mark all products clearly with the country of origin, so customers can make informed choices about what to buy.’
The protest outside the Holborn Sainsbury's was thought to have been a smaller demonstration, not one of the huge marches which have taken place in London since the Gaza conflict began on July 8.
The Stop The War coalition organised a protest in central London yesterday but it marched through a different part of the city, from the Egyptian embassy in Mayfair to Downing Street.
Fury: Former Tory MP Louise Mensch waded into the row, saying to remove the food was discrimination
Debate: She called anti-Israeli protesters 'racist b*******' and said the supermarket should not have moved food
Protest: Ms Mensch used the hashtag #EverydayAntisemitism to criticise the branch manager's decision
Mr Appleby returned to the branch this evening and found the kosher food shelf had been fully reinstated, adding: 'Sainsbury's assure me the staff member has been suitably chastised.'
The firm admitted the kosher food was removed but challenged Mr Appleby's version of events.
A Sainsbury's spokesman told MailOnline there was 'no evidence' that a staff member had made the 'Free Gaza' comment and instead the decision was taken to stop protesters damaging the food.
The spokesman added: 'It was the manager's decision there and then - not company policy at all. We are a non-political organisation and we're not coming down on either side of the argument.
'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'.
She confirmed the protest had been specifically against the Holborn Sainsbury's, but was unable to say how large it was. It was not believed to be targeted at the giant's nearby headquarters.
Sainsbury's added in a statement: 'The decision was taken to move these products to chilled storage elsewhere in the store for a short period on Saturday as a precautionary measure during an ongoing demonstration close to the store.
'They were returned to shelf as soon as was practically possible. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.'
MEANWHILE IN GAZA, CLOCK BEGINS COUNTING DOWN ON CEASEFIRE
There was still no firm peace deal as the clock ticked towards a five-day ceasefire expiring in Gaza tomorrow at midnight (9pm GMT).
Officials said tonight that Hamas was still opposed to the latest proposal but other Palestinian factions, including delegates representing President Mahmoud Abbas, were inclined to accept.
Health officials say 1,980 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict. Some 67 Israelis have also been killed, 64 of them soldiers.
Hamas officials said they were holding out in the hope of winning more concessions in the talks, which have been mediated by Egypt.
A member of the Palestinian delegation said tonight the gaps between the sides were still significant and that it was far from certain whether a deal could be reached.
'We are less optimistic than we were earlier,' he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the talks with the media.
Hamas is demanding an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza which has existed in its current form since 2007.
The blockade, which Israel says is needed to prevent arms smuggling, has ground Gaza's economy to a standstill by restricting imports, limiting the movement of people in and out of the territory and blocking virtually all exports.