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  • Feature Article

  • The kosher controversy at Sainsbury's speaks to a profound problem: acquiescence to anti-Semitism

    Brendan O'Neill in Mosaic Magazine


    SainsburyWere you outraged by a Sainsbury's store's decision over the weekend to hide away its kosher foods in an attempt to placate anti-Israel protesters? You should have been. For this incident, though seemingly a one-off, speaks to a profound problem in Europe today – the respectable classes' acquiescence to anti-Semitism; their willingness to accept anti-Semitic sentiment as a fact of life and to shrug it off or, worse, kowtow to it.

    The kosher incident took place at the Sainsbury's in Holborn in London. When a mob of anti-Israel protesters gathered outside the store, the manager took the extraordinary decision to take all kosher products off the shelves lest the protesters target them and smash them up. Kosher foods, of course, are Jewish not Israeli; they are part of the Jewish dietary requirement, not part of any kind of Israeli food corporatism. To shamefacedly hide away such foodstuffs in order to appease a gang of hot-headed Israel-haters is an attack on a religious people and their rights, not on the Israeli state. That in Britain in 2014 we have store managers taking kosher foods off public display should be of concern to anyone who hates prejudice and racism.

    So does this mean Sainsbury's is anti-Semitic? No. It doesn't even show that anyone at the Sainsbury's in Holborn is anti-Semitic. But it does shine 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. Imagine if a Sainsbury's manager suggested that the best way to deal with a racist in his store was to remove the black employees who were offending him. There would be outrage. Yet this weekend, in central, apparently civilised London, a manager decided that the best way to deal with people possessed of a possibly anti-Semitic outlook was to hide away the Jew stuff, lest they see it and feel disgusted by it.

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