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Here is a question, perhaps an obvious and therefore a silly one.  What has kosher food got to do with events in Gaza?

If your answer is ‘everything’, then please don’t bother to read on. 

If the answer is ‘nothing’, then please write a letter to Sainsbury’s explaining a few facts of life. 

These include one that may be considered so needless as to have hardly been worth mentioning in the first place let alone restating.  It is that Jews in Britain – and others – who purchase and consume kosher food, whether for reasons of religion, tradition or taste, have no more to do with Israel’s alleged mistreatment of Palestinians than I do.  Or, more to the point, any more than Muslims in Britain eating halal food have anything to do with the so-called Islamic State rebels who have invaded Iraq.

As it happens, I have serious qualms about Israel’s bombing of Palestinians in Gaza, and for that matter about Islamic State gangs beheading ‘infidels’ in Iraq.  But those are for a different piece. 

The point is that my reservations have nothing to do with what kind of oranges I buy at the greengrocer’s, or biscuits at the grocer’s.  And if that is my choice, it is also my personal privilege.  It isn’t one for Messrs. Sainsbury to decide in my name. 

My Jewish wife for an occasional treat – usually on high days and holidays – eats kosher food.  Sometimes I partake of it myself (though I must admit that if someone told me that, for one reason or another, I would never again be able to eat gefilte fish and matzos I would be less than distraught).  Whether I regularly eat halal meat I have never bothered to find out.  

The occasion for the initial questions is that the manager of a branch of Sainsbury’s, a leading British supermarket chain, in response to demonstrators outside protesting the store’s sale of Israeli goods, cleared the shelves of kosher foods.  Presumably, if similarly confronted by a group of Hindus or vegetarians or anti-vivisectionists, he would have cleared the butcher’s counter of meat.  One day he may be the subject of demonstrations against the low wages of coffee-pickers in Colombia and clear the shelves of Taster’s Choice et al.   

One has to assume that the manager – whose name has not been mentioned – is not a raving anti-Semite revelling in a convenient excuse to poke a stick into a Jewish eye.  One therefore has to assume that his action was taken in a moment of panic.  Some manager! 

None of this – not the waving of a few banners or the clearing of a few supermarket shelves – would be of much consequence if some mindless spokesman for Sainsbury’s had not justified the manager’s actions by referring to a ‘challenging situation’.   What on earth is challenging about a gaggle of militant idiots walking up and down with banners to make a political point?

But before condemning the manager as guilty of stupidity born of panic, we should pause to consider whether he first thought to call head office for advice?  If so, what advice was forthcoming?  Or did he, convinced that life and property might be endangered, ring the police instead? 

From what I have read, he did neither.  What would be disturbing is the revelation that he did one or the other and acted according to the advice received. 

But the reality seems to be that the story broke only when a customer, presumably disappointed to find that certain products had disappeared from their usual location, captured the empty shelves on a telephone camera, whence the photograph found its way to a news outlet.

The story reminds me of an anecdote about Keith Miller, a renowned Australian cricketer, who also happened to be a wartime RAF fighter pilot.  He was once asked whether he ever suffered from nerves when facing fast bowlers in a Test Match.  “Nerves”, he responded, “are what you suffer from when you’re flying at 5000 feet with a Messerschmitt up your arse”.

The Sainsbury’s manager may be less than intrepid – no Spitfire pilot he – but exactly what was it that impelled him to dump packets of matzos and jars of gefilte fish into bin-bags (presumably first having pondered the delicate issue of whether the bin men might have qualms about handling kosher product).  Perhaps he’ll soon be invited on television to explain himself.

Meanwhile, some commentators are working themselves into a frenzy about a new outbreak of anti-Semitism, even to the extent of calling attention to the infamous Kristallnacht purge in pre-war Germany, and the dreadful events that followed.   Sadly, the Jews will always present an easy target to the unreconstructed Fascists who seem to lurk in the political sewers of every society, and in every age, but there are few signs that Europe is heading back in time to the dark days of the German Reich.

The demonstrators outside Sainsbury’s – and, apparently, other supermarkets in Birmingham – are not your run-of-the-mill loonies from the extreme right, or your diehard Arabists from the extreme left.

They are, sad to report, almost invariably the hate-mongers purporting to represent a religion which (they believe) has been downtrodden and persecuted for centuries but which (they believe) now stands on the verge of a grand worldwide renaissance.  Suffice to say that the movement in question is not one that begins with F.      

Our problem, in short, is not a reversion to the Thirties but a reversion to far more ancient times and ancient themes.       

As a sad postscript, I should mention that Sainsbury’s has said it doesn’t intend to investigate the actions of its store manager.  A few Jews may be upset, but there are only 300,000 of them and several million Muslims, and at the end of the day business is business.

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